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Japan

Until the Fukushima accident, Japan had 55 operating nuclear reactors as well as enrichment and reprocessing plants which had suffered a series of deadly accidents at its nuclear facilities resulting in the deaths of workers and releases of radioactivity into the environment and surrounding communities. Since the Fukushima disaster, there is growing opposition against re-opening those reactors closed for maintenance.

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Saturday
Mar032012

Beyond Nuclear on the Thom Hartmann Show: Fukushima radioactive release estimates doubled (again!)

On March 1st, the Thom Hartmann Show hosted Beyond Nuclear's Kevin Kamps to discuss a Common Dreams article reporting that estimates of how much hazardous radioactive Cesium has escaped the destroyed Fukushima Daiichi nuclear power complex have doubled -- again. This is the third major doubling of estimates since the catastrophe began. (Kevin's interview is from minute 30:30 to minute 38:20).

Thom also asked Kevin what a becquerel is, to give some understanding and perspective on the "mind-boggling" estimate that 40,000 trillion (or 40 quadrillion) becquerels of radioactive Cesium have escaped into the environment from Fukushima Daiichi. A becquerel is a unit of measurement of radioactivity, equal to one disintegration per second. A becquerel is the SI (International System of Units) derived unit used to measure the rate of radioactive decay. When the nucleus of an atom emits nucleons (protons and/or neutrons) and is thereby transformed into a different nucleus, decay has occurred. A decay rate of one becquerel for a given quantity means there is one such atomic transformation per second. The unit of measurement is named after Antoine Henri Becquerel (1852-1908), the French physicist who discovered the photographic action of the rays spontaneously emitted by uranium salts, and so instigated the study of radioactivity. His work led to the discovery of radium by Marie and Pierre Curie, with whom he shared the 1903 Nobel Prize for physics. As Kevin said during the interview, the U.S. National Academy of Sciences has affirmed for decades that any exposure to radioactivity, no matter how small, carries a health risk of cancer. Thus, 40 quadrillion becquerels of radioactivity represent that many rolls of the dice, or rounds of radioactive Russian roulette, for people and other living things living downwind, downstream, and up the food chain.

Saturday
Mar032012

"Fukushima in review: A complex disaster, a disastrous response"

Yoichi Funabashi and Kay Kitazawa are chairman of the Rebuild Japan Initiative Foundation, and staff director of the Foundation's Independent Investigation Commission on the Fukushima Daiichi Nuclear Accident, respectively. They have published an article in the Bulletin of the Atomic Scientists (BAS) entitled "Fukushima in review: A complex disaster, a disastrous response." It's an overview of a 400 page study on the lessons to be learned from the Fukushima Nuclear Catastrophe, first reported by the New York Times on Feb. 27. The BAS abstract reads:

"On March 11, 2011, an earthquake and tsunami crippled the Fukushima Daiichi Nuclear Power Station. The emerging crisis at the plant was complex, and, to make matters worse, it was exacerbated by communication gaps between the government and the nuclear industry. An independent investigation panel, established by the Rebuild Japan Initiative Foundation, reviewed how the government, the Tokyo Electric Power Company (Tepco), and other relevant actors responded. In this article, the panel's program director writes about their findings and how these players were thoroughly unprepared on almost every level for the cascading nuclear disaster. This lack of preparation was caused, in part, by a public myth of "absolute safety" that nuclear power proponents had nurtured over decades and was aggravated by dysfunction within and between government agencies and Tepco, particularly in regard to political leadership and crisis management. The investigation also found that the tsunami that began the nuclear disaster could and should have been anticipated and that ambiguity about the roles of public and private institutions in such a crisis was a factor in the poor response at Fukushima."

The article announces that the full report, in Japanese only, would be released at the end of Feb. However, the English translation will not be ready until sometime this summer.

Friday
Mar022012

"Demonic" reality of Fukushima, versus absurdity of NRC

NRC file photo of Peach Bottom 2 & 3, PennsylvaniaWhile top level Japanese government officials admit that they feared a "demonic chain reactor" of atomic reactor meltdowns not only at Fukushima Daiichi, but also at Fukushima Daini and Tokai nuclear power plants, which would have led to an evacuation of Tokyo and perhaps its permanent loss, the U.S. Nuclear Regulatory Commission's SOARCA report absurdly claims that a reactor meltdown at the Fukushima Daiichi identically designed Peach Bottom Units 2 and 3 in Pennsylvania, surrounded by several other nuclear power plants, would cause few to no casualties. Read more.

Monday
Feb272012

Independent investigation documents that "demonic chain reaction" of atomic reactor meltdowns could have forced Tokyo's evacuation

Yoichi Funabashi, founder of the Rebuild Japan Initiative Foundation

Martin Fackler of the New York Times has reported that an imminent, high-level independent investigation into the Fukushima Daiichi Nuclear Catastrophe has documented that the worst-case scenarios were intentionally concealed from the Japanese people and world community. Led by Yoichi Funabashi (pictured, left), former editor in chief of the daily newspaper Asahi Shimbun, regarded as one of Japan’s foremost intellectuals, an investigative team "of 30 university professors, lawyers and journalists" came together to form the Rebuild Japan Initiative Foundation. Over the course of six months, it interviewed more than 300 people, including top government and nuclear officials involved in the response, to compile a 400 page report due out within days, described as "one of the most vivid accounts yet of how Japan teetered on the edge of an even larger nuclear crisis than the one that engulfed the Fukushima Daiichi Nuclear Power Plant."

The article describes what might have happened if Tokyo Electric Power Company (Tepco) had been allowed to abandon emergency efforts at Fukushima Daiichi, as it considered doing in the first days:

'The report quotes the chief cabinet secretary at the time, Yukio Edano, as having warned that such a “demonic chain reaction” of plant meltdowns could result in the evacuation of Tokyo, 150 miles to the south.

“We would lose Fukushima Daini, then we would lose Tokai,” Mr. Edano is quoted as saying, naming two other nuclear plants. “If that happened, it was only logical to conclude that we would also lose Tokyo itself.”

The Foundation 'credited Mr. Kan [the former Japanese Prime Minister who was serving when the catastrophe began, and resigned in August, 2011] with making the right decision in forcing Tepco not to abandon the plant.

“Prime Minister Kan had his minuses and he had his lapses,” Mr. Funabashi said, “but his decision to storm into Tepco and demand that it not give up saved Japan.” '

Thursday
Feb232012

"Fog of War" begins to part nearly a year after Fukushima Nuclear Catastrophe began

As first reported by Steve Mufson of the Washington Post on Feb. 7th, transcripts and audio recordings of U.S. Nuclear Regulatory Commission responses to the unfolding Fukushima Daiichi Nuclear Catastrophe in the first hours, days, and weeks after March 11, 2011-- recently released in response to Freedom of Information Act (FOIA) requests by journalists and environmentalists -- reveal a state of confused chaos and groping frustration. Clearly, NRC's March 13, 2011 media release, claiming that no harmful levels of Fukushima radioactive fallout would reach U.S. territory, were -- as Beyond Nuclear warned in media interviews at the time -- at best premature (as a number of large-scale explosions were yet to happen, and meltdowns were still very much underway). However, the recently released documentation reveals that a strong element of deception was also at work, as NRC was aware that Alaska could experience plumes of radioactive Iodine-131, hazardous to human thyroid glands. An NRC official referred to the proposal -- from a U.S. Department of Energy ad hoc emergency response think tank -- to use a shaped charge to blow a hole through a radiological containment structure, in order to create a pathway for cooling water flow to a melting down reactor core, as "madness."

As revealed by a Feb. 22nd New York Times article by Matt Wald, as well as a transcript uncovered by Scott Portzline of Three Mile Island Alert, NRC was very much in spin mode, worried about the political ramifications and public perceptions in response to the unfolding radioactive calamity. The latter transcript could be entitled "How many NRC staff does it take to make a hole?" Several NRC staff spend pages of transcript just over a week into the nuclear catatrophe discussing how to enlarge a hole in the Fukushima Daiichi Unit 2 reactor building's roof, in order to "vent" explosive hydrogen gas, partly to avoid the "political" fallout of yet another large-scale explosion broadcast worldwide on live t.v. Frighteningly, deputy administrator Chuck Casto of NRC's Western U.S. regional office suggests using a helicopter to drop or slam a heavy weight, such as a colorfully named "Bambi bucket" (a large water filled container used for fighting forest fires), above or beside the irradiated nuclear fuel storage pool. Apparently, Casto was unfamiliar with 2001 and 1997 NRC reports, as cited in the 2003 Alvarez et al. study about pool fire risks, warning that a "heavy load drop" that drains a storage pool's cooling water could cause a radioactive waste inferno releasing up to 100% of the irradiated nuclear fuel's volatile Cesium-137, resulting in 25,000 to 143,000 latent cancer deaths downwind, up to 2,700 square miles of agricultural land condemned, and economic costs due to evacuation into the hundreds of billions of dollars.

In addition, National Public Radio's "Marketplace" has just posted audio recordings of NRC discussions.

When it comes to NRC FOIA responses, "patience is a virtue." NRC's FOIA office has told Beyond Nuclear that its requests for documentation on the Davis-Besse atomic reactor's cracked containment will take four months to provide. Even worse, NRC's FOIA office has told Beyond Nuclear that there is no date certain for responding to a request for documentation on allegations that NRC Commissioner William Magwood IV regularly meets with nuclear industry representatives "off campus," in violation of norms -- and perhaps even laws and regulations -- pertaining to open, transparent, and accountable government, principles promised by President Barack Obama within hours of taking office in January 2009.