Popular protests by parents pressure Japanese government to reinstate stronger radiation protections for children

The L.A. Times has reported that a growing movement, led by parents, protesting the Japanese federal government's decision to allow a 20-fold increase in "permissible" radiation exposures for children -- in order to enable contaminated schools downwind of the Fukushima nuclear catastrophe to stay open -- has been reversed. The Japanese Ministry of Education has announced that "permissible" radiation exposure limits for children at school will be returned from 20 milliSieverts per year (2 Rem/yr) to 1 mSv/yr (100 millirem/yr). 2 Rem/yr is equivalent to what the German federal government allows German nuclear power plant workers to receive, a level for children that Physicians for Social Responsibility has called "unconscionable."


Germany to phase out nuclear power by 2022!

"Atomic power? No thanks!" auf DeutschThe New York Times has reported that German Chancellor Angela Merkel has agreed to permanently shut down all the country's atomic reactors by 2022 at the latest. Before the Fukushima nuclear catastrophe, she had campaigned to undo an earlier Social Democratic/Green "Nuclear Consensus" that would have done just that, and to extend operating licenses at each of Germany's 17 reactors by an average of 12 years. But since the Fukushima atomic disaster, which the Chancellor has described as a "catastrophe of apocalyptic dimensions," Merkel's conservative coalition has suffered some stunning defeats at the polls. In Baden-Württemberg, the state in which Stuttgart is the capital city, the Conservative Party had ruled for 60 years; but at the end of March, the Green Party won a majority, a direct popular response to the Fukushima radioactive crisis, but also to decades of tireless anti-nuclear organizing across Germany. If the largest economy in Europe (and the fourth largest economy in the world) can do it, so can the U.S.! Especially considering that Germany had been getting 23-25% of its electricity from atomic reactors, while the U.S. currently gets about 20%. To make up for the phased out nuclear electricity, as well as to continue to meet its Kyoto climate change commitments, Germany plans major expansions of energy efficiency, as well as renewable sources, such as wind and solar -- in which it already is a world leader.


MUSE Gil Scott-Heron passes away at age 62

Gil Scott-Heron, poet and musician credited as a "Godfather of rap" and pioneer of hiphop, has died at the age of 62. Scott-Heron wrote an anti-nuclear ballad, "We Almost Lost Detroit," and performed it at the Musicians United for Safe Energy (MUSE) anti-nuclear concerts at Madison Square Garden and Battery Park, New York, in 1979 after the Three Mile Island meltdown. The song refers to the 1966 partial meltdown of the Fermi 1 experimental plutonium breeder reactor in Monroe, Michigan -- first proposed by Detroit Edison to generate plutonium for the U.S. nuclear weapons arsenal in the early 1950s, with electricity as an afterthought. The song's title comes from the classic book by John G. Fuller, which first revealed the accident to the general public a decade after it happened. Here is a YouTube of Gil Scott-Heron performing "We Almost Lost Detroit" in London in 1990. And here are the lyrics of Gil Scott-Heron's "We Almost Lost Detroit." His 1979 lyrics were very prescient, given what happened 25 years ago at Chernobyl, and what's unfolding today at Fukushima Daiichi:

"We almost lost Detroit
this time.
How would we ever get over
losing our minds?

Cause odds are,
we gonna lose somewhere, one time.
Odds are
we gonna lose somewhere sometime.
And how would we ever get over
losing our minds?"

Gil Scott-Heron concluded (in rhyme, of course)  "When it comes to people's safety, Money wins out every time." The U.S. Nuclear Regulatory Commission's Office of Inspector General agrees with him. It has concluded, at both Millstone in Connecticut in 1996 (in terms of high-level radioactive waste storage pool risks), and at Davis-Besse in Ohio (visible with the naked eye across Lake Erie from Fermi in Michigan, in regards to age-related degradation reactor risks) in 2002, that public safety has taken a back seat to nuclear utility profits at the agency supposedly devoted to protecting public health, safety, and the environment. Of course, these are but two of countless additional examples which could be cited.


Robert Alvarez warns about catastrophic risks at U.S. high-level radioactive waste storage pools

Robert Alvarez (pictured at left), senior scholar at the Institute for Policy Studies and former senior advisor to the Energy Secretary during the Clinton administration, has published "Spent Nuclear Fuel Pools in the U.S.: Reducing the Deadly Risks of Storage." The report comes in the wake of the Fukushima nuclear catastrophe, in which one or more high-level radioactive waste storage pools may have already discharged catastrophic amounts of radioactivity into the environment, and several more remain at risk of doing so for lack of cooling water. Alvarez warns that densely-packed high-level radioactive waste storage pools at U.S. nuclear power plants should be off-loaded into outdoor dry casks as a vital national security measure. But while such irradiated nuclear fuel transfer from pools to dry casks is necessary, it is far from sufficient. Although he mentions the need to upgrade safety and security on current dry cask storage in the U.S., and even cites the National Academies of Science saying it is needed, this report falls short of fully calling for hardened on-site storage (HOSS). HOSS, endorsed by nearly 200 environmental groups across the U.S., also calls for pools to be emptied, but into hardened, well designed and constructed dry casks. Hardening envisions fortifications against attack, safeguards against accident, radiation and heat monitoring, and quality assurance to prevent failure of the containers in the decades and even centuries to come. None of this is currently required by the U.S. Nuclear Regulatory Commission. In fact, the very dry cask systems Alvarez points to in his report have exhibited safety, security, and environmental vulnerabilities. The German Castor cask failed to withstand a TOW anti-tank missile simulated attack at the U.S. Army's Aberdeen Proving Ground in Maryland in 1998. And the Holtec casks -- already deployed at 33 operating U.S. atomic reactors -- suffer from major QA violations in their design, manufacture, and operational usage. Of course, we must stop making high-level radioactive waste -- once it exists, it is inherently risky forevermore.


Fukushima Daiichi Unit 5 loses cooling for 15 hours

The Kyodo News has reported that the Fukushima Daiichi Unit #5 atomic reactor, and presumably its high-level radioactive waste storage pool as well, lost cooling for 15 hours yesterday. The cooling water surrounding the nuclear fuel heated to close to the boiling point. Cooling was restored before boiling began. If enough cooling water had boiled away, fuel damage could have resulted. As with Units 1, 2, and 3 reactors -- as well as one or more high-level radioactive waste storage pools at the site, including at Unit 4 -- irradiated nuclear fuel exposed to the air due to cooling water boiling and/or drain down, whether it be in a reactor pressure vessel core or high-level radioactive waste storage pool -- can lead to overheating, damage, explosive hydrogen gas generation, and even full-scale meltdown. Molten nuclear fuel burning through primary containment risks release of catastrophic amounts of hazardous radiation into the environment. So does combustion of irradiated nuclear fuel in storage pools, which are not even surrounded by a primary containment structure; the damage at Unit 2, and utter destruction at Units 1, 3, and 4, of the secondary containment buildings have exposed the high-level radioactive waste storage pools to the open sky. Unit 5 -- which was shut down for maintenance when the earthquake and tsunami struck on March 11th -- had previously been declared stable, in a state of "cold shutdown," before the 15 hour lapse in cooling raised the risk level.