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By Harvey Wasserman
Had last Friday's 7.1 earthquake and other ongoing seismic shocks hit less than 200 miles northwest of Ridgecrest/China Lake, ten million people in Los Angeles would now be under an apocalyptic cloud, their lives and those of the state and nation in radioactive ruin.
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By Julia Conley
Carbon emissions are affecting life in all of Earth's ecosystems—contributing to drought, flooding and the melting of ice in the Arctic and Antarctic regions. But a new study by researchers at Oxford University details how the planet's oceans are by far the climate crisis's biggest victim, with implications for the global population.
By Susan Southard
Wednesday is the 72nd anniversary of the atomic bombing of Nagasaki. At 11:02 a.m. Aug. 9, 1945, a five-ton plutonium bomb exploded a third of a mile above the city. Its blast winds tore through the city at two and a half times the speed of a Category 5 hurricane.
Two-year-old Masao Tomonaga was asleep in his home while his mother worked in another room. Within seconds of the blast, their house imploded on top of them. Remarkably, both survived. At 1.7 miles from the bomb's hypocenter, they were out of reach of its most intense infrared heat rays, which instantly carbonized human and animal flesh and vaporized the internal organs of those directly beneath the bomb.
By Yuko Yoneda
It started with just 12 of them. With a bold mission, this group of activists set sail to Amchitka island off Alaska to protest the detonation of an underground U.S. nuclear test. It was September 1971, and though the mission was initially unsuccessful, it was the beginning of what became Greenpeace, and just one of the many issues—the elimination of nuclear weapons—that the environmental organization would campaign endlessly against.
Indian Point Energy Center is a three-unit nuclear power plant station located in Buchanan, New York, just south of Peekskill. Tony Fischer / Wikipedia
By Joseph Mangano
In the late 1970s, the rate of new thyroid cancer cases in four counties just north of New York City—Westchester, Rockland, Orange and Putnam counties—was 22 percent below the U.S. rate. Today, it has soared to 53 percent above the national rate. New cases jumped from 51 to 412 per year. Large increases in thyroid cancer occurred for both males and females in each county.
That's according to a new study I co-authored which was published in the Journal of Environmental Protection and presented at Columbia University.
By William J. Kinsella
Seventy-five years ago, in March 1943, a mysterious construction project began at a remote location in eastern Washington state. Over the next two years some 50,000 workers built an industrial site occupying half the area of Rhode Island, costing more than $230 million—equivalent to $3.1 billion today. Few of those workers, and virtually no one in the surrounding community, knew the facility's purpose.
Thirty years after the nuclear disaster Greenpeace revisits the site and the Unit 4 with the New Safe Confinement (NSC or New Shelter). Denis Sinyakov / Greenpeace
The 1986 meltdown, which released radiation at least 100 times more powerful than the radiation released by the atom bombs dropped on Nagasaki and Hiroshima, rendered roughly 2,600 square kilometers of the area unsuitable for habitation. Greenpeace found that animals living within the exclusion zone have higher mortality rates, increased genetic mutations and decreased birth rate.
But in a twist of poetic justice, the Ukrainian government has expressed ambitions to turn 6,000 hectares within Chernobyl's "exclusion zone" into a renewable energy hub. The proposed plant would generate 1-gigawatt of solar power and 400-megawatts of biogas per year, the Guardian reported. The country is pushing for a six-month construction cycle.
PV-Tech, ecology minister Ostap Semerak has visited the European Bank for Reconstruction and Development (EBRD) with the plan. The proposal has since been issued to investment firms in the U.S., Canada and the UK. If it gets the green light, the renewable energy farm will generate about a third of the electricity that the former nuclear plant generated when it was running.
“The Chernobyl site has really good potential for renewable energy," Semerak said during an interview in London. “We already have high-voltage transmission lines that were previously used for the nuclear stations, the land is very cheap and we have many people trained to work at power plants. We have normal European priorities, which means having the best standards with the environment and clean energy ambitions."
Semerak said that two U.S. investment firms and four Canadian energy companies have already expressed interest in the Chernobyl's solar potential, the Guardian reported. The project is
estimated to cost between $1 and $1.5 billion.
"The EBRD may consider participating in the project so long as there are viable investment proposals and all other environmental matters and risks can be addressed to the bank's satisfaction," an EBRD representative said.
However "nothing is imminent," the spokesperson added. "We are keeping an open mind. But it's important not to read too much into it at this stage."
"The Ukraine has indicated it will open the exclusion zone, and we welcome that. Renewables are one of our priorities, and as soon and as long as they secure investment then we will discuss the project and provide co-financing," the bank rep said.
The renewable energy project isn't just good news for the environment, it will provide Ukraine some energy independence, as the country currently gets the bulk of its natural gas from Russia,
Business Insider pointed out.
If construction is approved, Chernobyl's solar farm will hold the title of "World's Largest Solar Plant" before Dubai's massive concentrated solar plant
catches up to it.
The under-construction Mohammed bin Rashid Al Maktoum Solar Park in Dubai will produce 1 gigawatt of electricity by 2020 with ambitious expansion plans of 5 gigawatts by 2030.
President Obama will become the first serving U.S. president to visit Hiroshima, Japan, later this month. The White House said Obama will not apologize for dropping an atomic bomb on the city toward the end of World War II. The attack on Aug. 6, 1945, caused massive and widespread destruction. Shock waves, radiation and heat rays took the lives of some 140,000 people. Three days later, the U.S. dropped a second atomic bomb on Nagasaki, killing another 74,000 people.
President Obama is expected to tour the site of the world’s first nuclear attack with Japan’s prime minister, Shinzo Abe. Obama’s Communications Adviser Ben Rhodes said that Obama’s time in Hiroshima will "reaffirm America’s longstanding commitment—and the president’s personal commitment—to pursue the peace and security of a world without nuclear weapons."
Obama’s visit comes as a report by the Alliance for Nuclear Accountability has revealed the U.S. has been quietly upgrading its nuclear arsenal to create smaller, more precise nuclear bombs as part of a massive effort that will cost up to $1 trillion over three decades. We speak with Kevin Martin, president of Peace Action.
Here’s the transcript of the interview:
Amy Goodman: It’s great to be back in New York, though we are still on the road. The White House has announced President Obama will become the first serving U.S. president to visit the Japanese city of Hiroshima later this month. But officials said he will not apologize for what happened on August 6, 1945, when the United States dropped the first nuclear weapon in history on the civilian population of Hiroshima. The attack destroyed the city. Shock waves, radiation and heat waves took the lives of some 140,000 people. Three days later, the U.S. dropped a second atomic bomb on Nagasaki, killing another 74,000 people. President Obama is expected to tour Hiroshima with Japan’s prime minister, Shinzo Abe. On Tuesday, White House Press Secretary Josh Earnest said Obama will not issue an apology.
Press Secretary Josh Earnest: The president intends to visit to send a much more forward-looking signal about his ambition for realizing the goal of a planet without nuclear weapons. This also is an opportunity for the visit to highlight the remarkable transformation in the relationship between Japan and the United States.
Amy Goodman: Despite the administration’s call for the elimination of nuclear weapons, the United States is pursuing a 30-year, $1 trillion program to modernize its nuclear weapon arsenal by designing bombs with smaller payloads. Retired General James Cartwright recently told The New York Times, quote, "what going smaller does is to make the weapon more thinkable," unquote.
To talk more about the significance of Obama’s Hiroshima visit, we go to Washington, DC, to speak with Kevin Martin, president of Peace Action.
Kevin, welcome to Democracy Now! Your response to President Obama going to Hiroshima and the press secretary making clear he would not apologize for the dropping of the bombs on Hiroshima and Nagasaki?
Kevin Martin: We’re very glad that the president is going to Hiroshima, but we don’t want it to be just another pretty speech where he talks about some day maybe having the right conditions to move towards eliminating nuclear weapons. He’s done that before. He has some accomplishments to show for his presidency, which we can talk about, but, for now, we want him to go with concrete actions. He’s got a bit of time left in his administration and he needs to take concrete action to further that goal. And we can talk about various steps.
As far as the apology is concerned, the hibakusha, the A-bomb survivors, are not asking for it. The Japanese government is not asking for it—for all kinds of reasons. The administration has ruled it out. And I think while I personally would like to see an apology, what might be more meaningful is if he meets with hibakusha and asks their forgiveness for not doing more during his term in office to move towards the elimination of nuclear weapons. But if he will take some concrete steps, then that apology—or that asking forgiveness would be unnecessary.
Amy Goodman: Can you talk about what you are demanding?
Kevin Martin: First of all, as you just mentioned, this 30-year, $1 trillion cockamamie plan—a colleague of ours called it a "trillion-dollar train wreck"—to totally upgrade all of our nuclear weapons complex, from the research laboratories to new warheads to new missiles, bombers, submarines, I can’t think of a worse misappropriation of our tax dollars. And predictably, every other nuclear-weapon state has followed suit, saying that they are going to upgrade their nuclear weapons, as well. It totally shreds any credibility that the United States has on nonproliferation. So that would be the first thing, is cancel that.
There are a lot of other steps that he could take: taking our nuclear weapons off of hair-trigger alert, separating the warheads from their delivery systems, initiating negotiations for the elimination of nuclear weapons globally, initiating talks on a Middle East zone free of weapons of mass destruction, taking unilateral executive action that doesn’t require a long treaty process—negotiations with Russia and then Senate ratification, which would be very difficult. We could cut our reserve nuclear weapons, get rid of a bunch of those. But even the current deployed nuclear weapons, we could go down to a thousand or fewer, as the Pentagon has suggested in the past and the U.S. actually wanted to do with Russia and then challenge Russia to reciprocate. Those are just some of the steps that would be meaningful and worth a trip to Hiroshima.
Amy Goodman:: I want to turn to the words of Kenzaburo Oe, the acclaimed Japanese novelist, recipient of the 1994 Nobel Prize for Literature. When Democracy Now! was in Japan in 2014, I interviewed Kenzaburo Oe and asked him if President Obama should apologize for the bombing of Hiroshima and Nagasaki.
Kenzaburo Oe: [translated] I am not seeking an apology, whether from the president or from any kind of person, in regards to this issue. And I believe the fact that humanity did create these nuclear weapons is a crime that all of humanity is responsible for. And I believe this is an issue of a much greater scale than any individual politician could make an apology for. I believe that it would have great meaning if Obama, for example, was to come to Hiroshima and hear the experiences or the testimony of the survivors. But I don’t believe that what we should be seeing here is an apology from someone on behalf of the United States’ people for dropping the bomb.
So I believe that if Mr. Obama were to come to the memorial ceremonies in Hiroshima or Nagasaki, for example, what he could do is come together with the hibakusha, the survivors and share that moment of silence and also express considering the issue of nuclear weapons from the perspective of all humanity and how important nuclear abolition is from that perspective—I think, would be the most important thing and the most important thing that any politician or representative could do at this time. I believe that the issue or the experience of nuclear weapons is something too large for any individual to apologize for and it’s the responsibility of all humanity to take on board. So rather than an apology, I believe that what’s important is to call for an expression of the will and the dedication to create a world free of nuclear weapons. And so, if any influential U.S. politicians or, for example, even French, were to come to Hiroshima and Nagasaki, that is what I would like to hear.
Amy Goodman: That’s the acclaimed Japanese author, Kenzaburo Oe, recipient of the 1994 Nobel Prize for Literature. I interviewed him in Japan in 2014. I also want to turn to the words of a Hiroshima survivor I spoke to during that same trip. Koji Hosokawa was 17 years old when the U.S. dropped the atomic bomb on Hiroshima. His 13-year-old sister Yoko died in the bombing. He gave us a tour of the city, speaking to us near the A-Bomb Dome in Hiroshima, one of the few structures in the city that survived the atomic blast.
Koji Hosokawa: [translated] The A-bomb was dropped in Hiroshima and also one in Nagasaki. And I think that atomic bombs were dropped not just on our cities, but on the whole human beings. And so, I have many things to talk about, about my experience of the A-bomb, but if the next one, the third A-bomb is to be dropped, then the Earth will be annihilated. I want people to understand, this is going to be—you know, the Earth is going to be annihilated. So whenever I talk, I want them to understand this.
The Peace Memorial Park, until the A-bomb, people lived here. Everything was destroyed. Everyone died around this area. The Peace Memorial Park is a beautiful park today, with so many trees. But later, they planted small trees and after decades these trees became bigger and now a very beautiful park today. So, I tell the visitors about this, too. I want them to understand people lived here. Please tell the people that people used to live here. War makes everyone crazy.
Amy Goodman: That’s Koji Hosokawa, 17 years old when the U.S. dropped an atomic bomb on his city of Hiroshima. His 13-year-old sister Yoko died in the bombing. He was speaking to us next to the A-Bomb Dome, one of the few structures in the city that survived the blast. I want to end by asking you, Kevin Martin, head of Peace Action—you’ve been to Hiroshima. You’ve met with Hiroshima survivors, both in Hiroshima as well as in your home state of New Jersey. Will President Obama meet with hibakusha, Hiroshima survivors?
Kevin Martin: I certainly hope so. I mean, I think he should. I think he needs to hear their stories, listen to their wisdom, listen to their sense of forgiveness, which is just awe-inspiring, as far as I’m concerned. And only thing that the hibakusha want—and, of course, many of them are very elderly—is to see the abolition of nuclear weapons, so that this never happens to anyone again.
I was in New Jersey just a few weeks ago for a dinner that New Jersey Peace Action had. And I was honored to meet again—I had met her years ago—Shigeko Sasamori, who was 13 years old when the bomb was dropped. She was a Hiroshima maiden who was brought to the United States for surgery and adopted by Norman Cousins, American peace activist. And she said she’ll be in Hiroshima and she wants to sneak through the security line and meet President Obama and shake his hand and not let go until he promises to eliminate nuclear weapons. I can’t imagine that they’re going to stop this diminutive 84-year-old grandmother. But hearing those stories could be transformative for this president, who already is committed to nuclear disarmament but just hasn’t done enough during his presidency to move us toward that goal.
Amy Goodman: And the significance of it being Prime Minister Shinzo Abe who will take him around, the prime minister of Japan? When we were in Japan, I interviewed the prime minister at the time of the Fukushima meltdown, Naoto Kan, who was a big supporter of nuclear power before the meltdown, now is one of the leading proponents in the world against nuclear power and weapons. What about Shinzo Abe’s relationship with Obama and his role in renuclearizing Japan?
Kevin Martin: Abe is terrible. He’s a nightmare for the people of Japan and the people of the region. He’s a militarist. He’s in league with the United States in terms of the so-called Asia-Pacific pivot to try to encircle and isolate China and Russia. And one of the worst things he’s doing is shredding Article 9 of the Japanese Constitution, the so-called pacifist part of the Constitution. So, he has to, I think, pay lip service to the goal of nuclear weapons abolition. I think most Japanese national politicians have to do that. But he’s no ally at all, as far as I’m concerned or the Japanese peace groups or Japanese survivors are concerned.
Amy Goodman: Kevin Martin, president of Peace Action, thanks so much for being with us. We’ll link to your piece in CounterPunch headlined "President Obama Should Meet A-Bomb Survivors."
This is Democracy Now!, democracynow.org, The War and Peace Report. When we come back, we look at a delegate chosen by the Trump organization to represent Trump in California. They say it was a database mistake that the white supremacist was chosen. We’ll look deeper. And then we’ll talk about "Madness"; we’ll talk about what happens to mentally ill prisoners in a prison here in the United States. Stay with us.
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More than most, Japan is a nation whose modern history is tragically linked to the quest to use and tame nuclear power. This nuclear history is not noteworthy for its successes, but for how it reflects humanity's capacity for destruction—and peace.
It has been 70 years since the U.S. atomic bombings of the Japanese cities of Hiroshima and Nagasaki, killing more than 400,000 people and affecting generations more through nuclear radiation. The horror of these bombings has been imprinted on our consciousness, holding at bay the further use of nuclear weapons in warfare.
These plans have met overwhelming public opposition, with polls showing the majority of Japanese people are against restarting nuclear reactors. Photo credit: Greenpeace / Jeremy Sutton-Hibbert
These humanitarian catastrophes sparked a powerful peace movement in Japan that has been influential worldwide. It also gave rise to the country's unique 1947 "Peace Constitution," which renounces war and armed forces to resolve conflicts, except in self-defense. This legacy of peace has served Japan well, but it is now under threat. Prime Minister Shinzo Abe is pushing for deeply unpopular legislation to allow Japan to fight in foreign conflicts, effectively rewriting a part of the constitution that has become ingrained in the nation's psyche.
The campaign towards achieving global nuclear disarmament meanwhile remains a long way off. At the start of 2015, some 15,850 nuclear weapons were held in stock by nine states: the U.S., Russia, China, India, Pakistan, Israel, Britain, France and North Korea. Roughly 1,800 of these weapons are on high operational alert, according to the Stockholm International Peace Research Institute. These nine states continue to upgrade their nuclear weapons and research new ones.
We only have to look to the political wrangling over the breakthrough nuclear deal with Iran last month to witness the intractable nature of debates over who gets to wield the threat of nuclear weapons. The lack of political will on achieving disarmament meant no real progress was made in the latest review of the Treaty on the Non-Proliferation of Nuclear Weapons (NPT), held in May; the United Nations itself was forced to admit parties could not agree on substantive parts of the meeting's final document.
Greenpeace itself has a history that is intertwined with nuclear energy: Our organization's foundation campaign was the 1971 attempt by a small group of activists to stop U.S. nuclear tests on the island of Amchitka, Alaska. Forty-four years later, our understanding of the dangers of nuclear weapons proliferation and the attendant threats from nuclear energy, has only deepened, along with our core commitment to see it phased out. Nuclear energy, whether for military or civil purposes, is never peaceful. No nuclear program can ever be considered purely civil and always carries the threat of nuclear weapons development. And as the history of catastrophes in the nuclear energy sector proves, nuclear energy is neither safe, nor clean.
Nuclear energy, with its inherent environmental dangers and high costs, is increasingly unattractive as an alternative to fossil fuels. Instead, interest in renewable energy sources is surging in forward-looking economies and among investors, who know that continued fossil fuel dependence only drives conflict and distorts foreign policies.
— CNN (@CNN) August 6, 2015
But the threats are still there.
Nearly four and a half years ago, an earthquake sparked a triple-core reactor meltdown in a nuclear power plant in Japan, forcing tens of thousands of people to leave their homes. After investigations, Greenpeace Japan revealed last month that radiation in one of the most contaminated districts is still so widespread and at such a high level that those who were evacuated cannot return home safely, despite decontamination efforts.
Japan's operating reactors are currently shut pending safety checks, but the nation is planning to restart its first nuclear reactor this month. These plans have met overwhelming public opposition, with polls showing the majority of Japanese people are against restarting nuclear reactors. A Greenpeace petition opposing the nuclear restart has gathered tens of thousands of signatures.
At the core of Greenpeace is a conviction that conflict and the ways it manifests in violent struggles over our natural resources, will destroy our planet and all of us. So we have to find better ways to resolve these issues. Our non-proliferation campaign over the decades is part of a global peace movement that aspires to social justice and environmental sustainability. Even as we see setbacks to achieving peace in our time, we are convinced that non-violent resistance and protest will achieve this change. History shows that peaceful opposition is far more effective than violence will ever be.
It should be unthinkable that the horror in Hiroshima and Nagasaki 70 years ago would ever be revisited upon anyone anywhere in our world today. Neither should the trauma felt by Japanese people after the Fukushima accident—and also by thousands of people affected by other nuclear disasters, such as Chernobyl—ever again be endured. Our remembrances for this occasion are also reminders to continue our journey towards peaceful change.
Kumi Naidoo is the International Executive Director of Greenpeace.
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In the early morning of April 26, 1986, reactor four of the Chernobyl nuclear station exploded. It caused what the United Nations has called "the greatest environmental catastrophe in the history of humanity."
Chernobyl was the accident that the nuclear industry said would never happen.
Twenty-five years later the Fukushima nuclear accident in Japan reminded us that the risk of another Chernobyl remains wherever nuclear power is used.
The long-lived radionuclides released by Chernobyl means the disaster continues 30 years later. It still affects the lives of millions of people. Here are 15 facts you may not know about the disaster:
1. Exactly 30 years ago, Chernobyl's nuclear reactors, located in Ukraine, exploded. Nearly 5 million people still live in the areas considered contaminated.
2. The amount of radiation released is at least 100 times more powerful than the radiation released by the atom bombs dropped on Nagasaki and Hiroshima.
3. People in the nearest town, Pripyat, were evacuated only two days after the disaster. By that time many people were already exposed to high levels of radiation.
4. Radioactive rain fell as far away as Ireland. The Ukraine, Belarus and Russia were the most affected countries. They received 63 percent of the contamination from Chernobyl.
5. Since Pripyat was abandoned by people due to high radiation levels, wolves, wild horses, beavers, boars and other animals have populated the town.
6. Animals living within the 30km exclusion zone around Chernobyl have higher mortality rates, increased genetic mutations and decreased birth rate.
7. You'd think the other Chernobyl reactors would have been shut down right away, but the three other reactors at the site were restarted and operated for another 13 years!
8. Radioactive material still remains in a crumbling cement sarcophagus built over the reactor following the accident. A new massive shell is being built over the current sarcophagus, but will only last for 100 years.
9. The nearby forest close to the disaster is called the "red forest" as radiation gave it a bright ginger color and left nothing but but death behind.
10. The nuclear industry and supporting governments in Ukraine, Russia and Belarus want to spend billions on other nuclear projects while ignoring their responsibility to support Chernobyl's survivors. They minimize the impacts of the disaster and hide the day-to-day reality of Chernobyl.
11. Now you can even book a trip to the Chernobyl exclusion zone! Tourist agencies organize day tours in the abandoned town of Pripyat.
12. Pripyat is highly contaminated and will remain abandoned as plutonium needs more than 24,000 years to reduce just half of its intensity.
13. Radiation was so strong that the eyes of firefighter Vladimir Pravik changed from brown to blue.
14. Sweden was the first country to inform the world about the disaster as the Ukrainian government decided to keep Chernobyl's explosion a secret at first.
15. In the contaminated areas, Chernobyl touches every aspect of people's lives. Chernobyl's radiation is in the food they eat, the milk and water they drink, in the schools, parks and playgrounds their children play in and in the wood they burn to keep warm.
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Amid anti-nuclear protests early this month, Japan restarted its first nuclear reactor since the Fukushima disaster in March 2011. Despite strong opposition, including from former Prime Minister Naoto Kan, Kyushu Electric Power put one of the two reactors at its Sendai facility along the nation's southwestern coast back online. The second is scheduled to restart in October.
In the face of opinion polls showing most voters oppose restarting the country's nuclear power generation, Prime Minister Shinzo Abe argued that it is not economically feasible to keep importing foreign oil and natural gas and that the nation's increasing dependence on thermal energy threatens greenhouse gas emission reduction goals.
— The Mass Deception (@MassDeception1) August 23, 2015
But as Japan's concerns about its nuclear future grip the nation, North America continues to worry about the ongoing fallout caused by the Fukushima meltdown as ocean currents carry radioactivity to the western coasts of Canada and the U.S.
Ethan Stewart, a reporter for the Santa Barbara Independent, wrote about the "drumbeat of terror" that gripped California in early 2014:
"The panic started sometime after the New Year. It found its way to my inbox and my Twitter feed, took up residence on my Facebook wall and dominated conversations with friends and colleagues. I read reports titled 'Holy Fukushima—Radiation Already Killing North Americans' and '28 Signs That the West Coast Is Being Absolutely Fried with Nuclear Radiation from Fukushima' and 'The Worldwide Nuclear Crisis That No One Is Talking About.' These were no-holds-barred declarations that Japan’s Fukushima nuclear disaster was now a threat to life as we know it here on the West Coast."
But scientists who have analyzed the effects of the nuclear fallout in North America have found precious little to fret about. A month after the disaster, kelp beds off the California coast were contaminated with the short-lived iodine-131, a radioactive isotope with an 8-day half-life.
"Kelp forests are some of the most productive ecosystems on Earth," said Steven Manley, a biologist and kelp expert at the California State University at Long Beach. "One thing about [kelp] is it has a large surface canopy," he said, pointing to the fact that because it is always exposed to air, kelp absorbs all the various contaminants in the air. Though Manley said that the presence in the marine environment of iodine-131, a product of nuclear fission that is not found in nature, "was significant," he added that "it's definitely not harmful to humans."
In June 2012, two radioactive isotopes, cesium-134 (with a half-life of two years) and cesium-137 (with a half-life of 30 years), were detected in the seawater at a location some 1500 km (930 miles) west of British Columbia, according to a study published in December and conducted by scientists from the University of Rhode Island and Canada's Department of Fisheries and Oceans. Cesium isotopes have been released into the atmosphere ever since nuclear testing began in 1945. Today, it is a component of radioactive fallout.
By June 2013, the "Fukushima signal," as it is known, had reached the Canadian continental shelf. By February of this year, the signal had increased to a value of 2 Becquerels (Bq) per cubic meter throughout the upper 150 meters (500 feet) of the water column. The study's authors said that the increase resulted in "an overall doubling of the fallout background from atmospheric nuclear weapons tests."
Global cesium-137 levels, pre-Fukushima. Photo credit: Woods Hole Oceanographic Institution
While "doubling of the fallout background" may sound somewhat ominous, 2 Bq per cubic meter is a tiny amount of radiation. Ken Buesseler, an oceanographer at the Woods Hole Oceanographic Institution, put it into perspective in a Reddit AMA last fall. He said that if you went swimming in a part of the Pacific Ocean that had 10 Bqs per cubic meter of cesium-134 or 137, you could swim six hours day, 365 days a year and still only get a radioactive dose that was "more than 1,000 times less than a single dental x-ray."
Pavel Povinec of Comenius University in Slovakia and Katsumi Hirose of Sophia University in Japan studied seawater and biota samplings collected offshore from Fukushima and the Pacific northwest. They found that the total effective dose from an average annual consumption of contaminated fish, shellfish and seaweed caught in coastal waters off Fukushima was estimated to be anywhere between 0.2 to 1.0 millisieverts (mSv) a year.
Again, it's a tiny amount. According to the American Cancer Society, the average American is exposed to about three times that amount from natural sources over the course of a year. You would receive about 8 mSv from a single standard x-ray of your abdomen. The estimated individual doses of eating fish and seafood from the Fukushima region, the researchers concluded, "have been below the levels when any health damage of the Japanese and world population could be expected."
Still, scientists continue to measure the Fukushima signal. Last month, the icebreaker CCGS Sir Wilfrid Laurier collected samples of surface seawater as it traveled between Victoria, British Columbia, to Dutch Harbor, Alaska. The mission was the latest chapter of the ongoing research conducted as part of the Integrated Fukushima Ocean Radionuclide Monitoring (InFORM) Network, a collaborative radiation monitoring program to understand the environmental risks for Canada's Pacific and Arctic oceans from the Fukushima disaster. Results will be made available on the InFORM website in a few months.
"This information will help to determine how well model predictions of the activities and progression of ocean-borne contamination across the Pacific Ocean match with observations," said Jay T. Cullen, a marine chemist and oceanographer at the University of Victoria. "Understanding the spread of this contamination provides important information on the impact of the Fukushima Dai-ichi disaster on the health of the Pacific ecosystem and the North American public."
The researchers from the University of Rhode Island and Canada's Department of Fisheries and Oceans estimate that the future total level of cesium-137 will reach maximum values by 2015-'16 "before declining to levels closer to the fallout background" by 2012. They conclude: "The increase in cesium-137 levels in the eastern North Pacific from Fukushima inputs will probably return eastern North Pacific concentrations to the fallout levels that prevailed during the 1980s but does not represent a threat to human health or the environment."
Locations where surface seawater samples were collected for the InFORM project in July 2015. Photo credit: InFORM
But while scientists have failed to find reason for concern, there continues to be public worry about the radioactivity that leaked from the Fukushima plant and how it may impact the food system and human health. Donald W. Miller, Jr., professor emeritus of surgery at the University of Washington in Seattle, explains our seemingly irrepressible fear of radiation:
"Along with the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) and Nuclear Regulatory Commission (NRC), elected government officials, newspapers science writers, TV reporters and journalists and consequently, most Americans believe that low doses of radiation are harmful. People have "radiophobia"—the fear that any level of ionizing radiation, no matter how small, is dangerous. Why? For one thing, the news media fosters it because fear sells. Scary stories about the dangers of radiation keep people tuned in. Another reason, which lies deeper in the collective psyche, is that this phobia expresses the deep-seated sense of revulsion that Americans feels over the devastation and loss of life cause by the atomic bombs that its country dropped on Hiroshima and Nagasaki at the end of World War II."
In addition, many people don't realize that radioactivity is not only all around us, but within us. As Stephen Frantz, former director of the Reed College Nuclear Reactor, points out:
"The human body contains radioactive elements. Naturally occurring potassium-40, carbon-14, uranium and thorium are present in every human body. Together they undergo about half a million decays every minute … Approximately half a million times every minute of your life a radioactive atom in your body decays and irradiates you from inside with radiation. This has happened every minute of your life."
Radioactivity in some natural and other materials, include:
Photo credit: World Nuclear Association
"Life on Earth has developed with an ever present background of radiation," notes Eric J. Hall, a professor of radiology at Columbia University, in his book Radiation and Life. "It is not something new, invented by the wit of man: radiation has always been there."
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Uranium mining across the world should cease, nuclear power stations be closed and nuclear weapons be banned, according to a group of scientists, environmentalists and representatives of indigenous peoples.
Three hundred delegates from 20 countries that produce uranium for nuclear power, weapons and medical uses called for an end to all uranium mining in a declaration launched on Earth Day this week at a meeting in Quebec, Canada.
The venue for the World Uranium Symposium was chosen because Quebec state is currently considering whether to continue its moratorium on uranium mining, having already closed down its only nuclear power plant in 2013.
The city of Quebec is also symbolic because this is where Canada, the U.S. and the UK made a cooperation agreement in 1943 that led to the building of the world’s first nuclear weapons. Two of the resulting atomic bombs were used to destroy the Japanese cities of Hiroshima and Nagasaki in 1945.
But the symposium was more concerned about the damage that existing uranium mining is doing to the welfare of indigenous peoples, and the “erroneous view” that nuclear power can help solve the problem of climate change.
The declaration applauded the expansion of renewable energy and the significant strides in phasing out nuclear power following the growing awareness that “nuclear power is not a cost-effective, timely, practical or safe response to climate change.”
It called for “a worldwide ban on uranium exploration, mining, milling and processing, as well as the reprocessing of nuclear waste and the irresponsible management of radioactive waste.”
Dr. Eric Notebaert, associate professor of medicine at the University of Montreal, co-president of the Symposium, and member of the Canadian Association of Physicians for the Environment, said that the symposium delegates all agreed that “the risks to health, safety and the environment represented by the entire nuclear fuel chain—from uranium mines, to power reactors, to nuclear weapons, to radioactive wastes—greatly exceed the potential benefits for society.”
Dr. Juan Carlos Chrigwin, a physician affiliated with McGill University, and president of Physicians for Global Survival, said: “The issuing of this World Declaration on Uranium is the culmination of essential work carried out over many years by international coalitions who, despite geographical and cultural differences, share common objectives and who desire to shape a common vision of a better world.
“Uranium does not provide a viable or sustainable approach for dealing with climate change, nor for providing isotopes for medical use. Today, there are a number of medical and energy alternatives that are cheaper and safer.”
The price of uranium has dropped from $138 a tonne in 2007 to less than $40 a tonne currently as plans to build more nuclear stations have been shelved in several countries.
While the search continues for rich new uranium deposits—particularly by China in Africa and the U.S. in Greenland—it is unlikely to be economically viable to exploit them at current prices.
According to the World Nuclear Association, 52 percent of the world’s production comes from 10 mines in six countries. The largest is in Canada, followed by one in Australia, but the largest single producer is Kazakhstan, which has four mines in the top 10 in the world. In Africa, Niger and Namibia are also big producers.
While many pro-nuclear governments—including the UK’s—regard nuclear power as a clean, low-carbon form of energy, the politicians ignore the carbon footprint of the mines and the consequences for the health of workers.
It is in developing countries that the miners and the local environment tend to suffer most because of open cast mines. For example, large areas of Kazakhstan are too dangerous to inhabit as a result of mountains of uranium tailings and mildly radioactive dust.
The Symposium’s co-president, Dr. Dale Dewar—a physician who is associate professor at the University of Saskatchewan and is co-author of the book, From Hiroshima to Fukushima to You—summed up by saying: “We are calling on national and international leaders to protect our planet and our populations from any further nuclear catastrophes. Anything less would be irresponsible.”
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[This is the first in a two part series]
Fukushima's missing melted cores and radioactive gushers continue to fester in secret.
Japan's harsh dictatorial censorship has been matched by a global corporate media blackout aimed—successfully—at keeping Fukushima out of the public eye.
But that doesn't keep the actual radiation out of our ecosystem, our markets ... or our bodies.
Speculation on the ultimate impact ranges from the utterly harmless to the intensely apocalyptic .
But the basic reality is simple: for seven decades, government Bomb factories and privately-owned reactors have spewed massive quantities of unmonitored radiation into the biosphere.
The impacts of these emissions on human and ecological health are unknown primarily because the nuclear industry has resolutely refused to study them.
Indeed, the official presumption has always been that showing proof of damage from nuclear Bomb tests and commercial reactors falls to the victims, not the perpetrators.
And that in any case, the industry will be held virtually harmless.
This “see no evil, pay no damages" mindset dates from the Bombing of Hiroshima to Fukushima to the disaster coming next ... which could be happening as you read this.
Here are 50 preliminary reasons why this radioactive legacy demands we prepare for the worst for our oceans, our planet, our economy ... ourselves.
1. At Hiroshima and Nagasaki (1945), the U.S. military initially denied that there was any radioactive fallout, or that it could do any damage. Despite an absence of meaningful data, the victims (including a group of U.S. prisoners of war) and their supporters were officially “discredited" and scorned.
2. Likewise, when Nobel-winners Linus Pauling and Andre Sakharov correctly warned of a massive global death toll from atmospheric Bomb testing, they were dismissed with official contempt ... until they won in the court of public opinion.
3. During and after the Bomb Tests (1946-63), downwinders in the South Pacific and American west, along with thousands of U.S. “atomic vets," were told their radiation-induced health problems were imaginary ... until they proved utterly irrefutable.
4. When British Dr. Alice Stewart proved (1956) that even tiny x-ray doses to pregnant mothers could double childhood leukemia rates, she was assaulted with 30 years of heavily funded abuse from the nuclear and medical establishments.
5. But Stewart's findings proved tragically accurate, and helped set in stone the medical health physics consensus that there is no “safe dose" of radiation ... and that pregnant women should not be x-rayed, or exposed to equivalent radiation.
6. More than 400 commercial power reactors have been injected into our ecosphere with no meaningful data to measure their potential health and environmental impacts, and no systematic global data base has been established or maintained.
7. “Acceptable dose" standards for commercial reactors were conjured from faulty A-Bomb studies begun five years after Hiroshima, and at Fukushima and elsewhere have been continually made more lax to save the industry money.
8. Bomb/reactor fallout delivers alpha and beta particle emitters that enter the body and do long-term damage, but which industry backers often wrongly equate with less lethal external gamma/x-ray doses from flying in airplanes or living in Denver.
9. By refusing to compile long-term emission assessments, the industry systematically hides health impacts at Three Mile Island (TMI), Chernobyl, Fukushima, etc., forcing victims to rely on isolated independent studies which it automatically deems “discredited."
10. Human health damage has been amply suffered in radium watch dial painting, Bomb production, uranium mining/milling/enrichment, waste management and other radioactive work, despite decades of relentless industry denial.
11. When Dr. Ernest Sternglass, who had worked with Albert Einstein, warned that reactor emissions were harming people, thousands of copies of his Low-Level Radiation (1971) mysteriously disappeared from their primary warehouse.
12. When the Atomic Energy Commission's (AEC) Chief Medical Officer, Dr. John Gofman, urged that reactor dose levels be lowered by 90 percent, he was forced out of the AEC and publicly attacked, despite his status a founder of the industry.
13. A member of the Manhattan Project, and a medical doctor responsible for pioneer research into LDL cholesterol, Gofman later called the reactor industry an instrument of “premeditated mass murder."
14. Stack monitors and other monitoring devices failed at Three Mile Island (1979) making it impossible to know how much radiation escaped, where it went or who it impacted and how.
15. But some 2,400 TMI downwind victims and their families were denied a class action jury trial by a federal judge who said “not enough radiation" was released to harm them, though she could not say how much that was or where it went.
16. During TMI's meltdown, industry advertising equated the fallout with a single chest x-ray to everyone downwind, ignoring the fact that such doses could double leukemia rates among children born to involuntarily irradiated mothers.
17. Widespread death and damage downwind from TMI have been confirmed by Dr. Stephen Wing, Jane Lee and Mary Osbourne, Sister Rosalie Bertell, Dr. Sternglass, Jay Gould, Joe Mangano and others, along with hundreds of anecdotal reports.
18. Radioactive harm to farm and wild animals downwind from TMI has been confirmed by the Baltimore News-American and Pennsylvania Department of Agriculture.
19. TMI's owner quietly paid out at least $15 million in damages in exchange for gag orders from the affected families, including at least one case involving a child born with Down's Syndrome.
20. Chernobyl's explosion became public knowledge only when massive emissions came down on a Swedish reactor hundreds of miles away, meaning that—as at TMI and Fukushima—no one knows precisely how much escaped or where it went.
21. Fukushima's on-going fallout is already far in excess of that from Chernobyl, which was far in excess of that from Three Mile Island.
22. Soon after Chernobyl blew up (1986), Dr. Gofman predicted its fallout would kill at least 400,000 people worldwide.
23. Three Russian scientists who compiled more than 5,000 studies concluded in 2005 that Chernobyl had already killed nearly a million people worldwide.
24. Children born in downwind Ukraine and Belarus still suffer a massive toll of mutation and illness, as confirmed by a wide range of governmental, scientific and humanitarian organizations.
25. Key low-ball Chernobyl death estimates come from the World Health Organization, whose numbers are overseen by International Atomic Energy Agency, a United Nations organization chartered to promote the nuclear industry.
26. After 28 years, the reactor industry has still not succeeded in installing a final sarcophagus over the exploded Chernobyl Unit 4, though billions of dollars have been invested.
27. When Fukushima Units 1-4 began to explode, President Obama assured us all the fallout would not come here, and would harm no one, despite having no evidence for either assertion.
28. Since President Obama did that, the U.S. has established no integrated system to monitor Fukushima's fallout, nor an epidemiological data base to track its health impacts ... but it did stop checking radiation levels in Pacific seafood.
29. Early reports of thyroid abnormalities among children downwind from Fukushima, and in North America are denied by industry backers who again say “not enough radiation" was emitted though they don't know how much that might be.
30. Devastating health impacts reported by sailors stationed aboard the USS Ronald Reagan near Fukushima are being denied by the industry and Navy, who say radiation doses were too small to do harm, but have no idea what they were.
31. While in a snowstorm offshore as Fukushima melted, sailors reported a warm cloud passing over the Reagan that brought a “metallic taste" like that described by TMI downwinders and the airmen who dropped the Bomb on Hiroshima.
32. Though it denies the sailors on the Reagan were exposed to enough Fukushima radiation to harm them, Japan (like South Korea and Guam) denied the ship port access because it was too radioactive (it's now docked in San Diego).
33. The Reagan sailors are barred from suing the Navy, but have filed a class action against Tokyo Electric Power (Tepco), which has joined the owners at TMI, the Bomb factories, uranium mines, etc., in denying all responsibility.
34. A U.S. military “lessons learned" report from Fukushima's Operation Tomodachi clean-up campaign notes that “decontamination of aircraft and personnel without alarming the general population created new challenges."
35. The report questioned the clean-up because “a true decontamination operations standard for 'clearance' was not set," thereby risking “the potential spread of radiological contamination to military personnel and the local populace."
36. Nonetheless, it reported that during the clean-up, “the use of duct tape and baby wipes was effective in the removal of radioactive particles."
37. In league with organized crime, Tepco is pursuing its own clean-up activities by recruiting impoverished homeless and elderly citizens for “hot" on-site labor, with the quality of their work and the nature of their exposures now a state secret.
38. At least 300 tons of radioactive water continue to pour into the ocean at Fukushima every day, according to official estimates made prior to such data having been made a state secret.
39. To the extent they can be known, the quantities and make-up of radiation pouring out of Fukushima are also now a state secret, with independent measurement or public speculation punishable by up to ten years in prison.
40. Likewise, “There is no systematic testing in the U.S. of air, food and water for radiation," according to University of California (Berkeley) nuclear engineering Professor Eric Norman.
41. Many radioactive isotopes tend to concentrate as they pour into the air and water, so deadly clumps of Fukushima's radiation may migrate throughout the oceans for centuries to come before diffusing, which even then may not render it harmless.
42. Radiation's real world impact becomes even harder to measure in an increasingly polluted biosphere, where interaction with existing toxins creates a synergy likely to exponentially accelerate the damage being done to all living things.
43. Reported devastation among starfish, sardines, salmon, sea lions, orcas and other ocean animals cannot be definitively denied without a credible data base of previous experimentation and monitoring, which does not exist and is not being established.
44. The fact that “tiny" doses of x-ray can harm human embryos portends that any unnatural introduction of lethal radioactive isotopes into the biosphere, however “diffuse," can affect our intertwined global ecology in ways we don't now understand.
45. The impact of allegedly “minuscule" doses spreading from Fukushima will, over time, affect the minuscule eggs of creatures ranging from sardines to starfish to sea lions, with their lethal impact enhanced by the other pollutants already in the sea.
46. Dose comparisons to bananas and other natural sources are absurd and misleading as the myriad isotopes from reactor fallout will impose very different biological impacts for centuries to come in a wide range of ecological settings.
47. No current dismissal of general human and ecological impacts—"apocalyptic" or otherwise—can account over time for the very long half-lives of radioactive isotopes Fukushima is now pouring into the biosphere.
48. As Fukushima's impacts spread through the centuries, the one certainty is that no matter what evidence materializes, the nuclear industry will never admit to doing any damage, and will never be forced to pay for it (see upcoming sequel).
49. Hyman Rickover, father of the nuclear navy, warned that it is a form of suicide to raise radiation levels within Earth's vital envelope, and that if he could, he would “sink" all the reactors he helped develop.
50. “Now when we go back to using nuclear power," he said in 1982, “I think the human race is going to wreck itself, and it is important that we get control of this horrible force and try to eliminate it."
As Fukushima deteriorates behind an iron curtain of secrecy and deceit, we desperately need to know what it's doing to us and our planet.
It's tempting to say the truth lies somewhere between the industry's lies and the rising fear of a tangible apocalypse.
In fact, the answers lie beyond.
Defined by seven decades of deceit, denial and a see-no-evil dearth of meaningful scientific study, the glib corporate assurances that this latest reactor disaster won't hurt us fade to absurdity.
Fukushima pours massive, unmeasured quantities of lethal radiation into our fragile ecosphere every day, and will do so for decades to come.
Five power reactors have now exploded on this planet and there are more than 400 others still operating.
What threatens us most is the inevitable next disaster ... along with the one after that ... and then the one after that ...
Pre-wrapped in denial, protected by corporate privilege, they are the ultimate engines of global terror.
Visit EcoWatch's FUKUSHIMA page for more related news on this topic.
Harvey Wasserman edits www.nukefree.org, where petitions calling for the repeal of Japan's State Secrets Act and a global takeover at Fukushima are linked. He is author of SOLARTOPIA! Our Green-Powered Earth.
By Geoffrey Sea
USEC Inc. has confirmed that today, May 31, is the last day of uranium enrichment at the Paducah Gaseous Diffusion Plant in Kentucky, marking the end of sixty-one years of operation. The monstrous facility was opened in 1952 as a last hurrah of the Truman Administration, representing one of the most egregious acts of political favoritism in American history. The plant was located in Paducah because that city was the hometown of Alben Barkley, who represented Kentucky’s First District in Congress and then became Truman’s vice president.
(Concurrently, the Piketon, Ohio, plant was located as a concession to Ohio Senator and presidential candidate Robert Taft. Barkley and Taft each boasted about how they had won these megaliths for their states—plants that produced modest employment for half a century along with site contamination that will last for thousands of years.)
Cessation of enrichment today comes as something of a predictable surprise, following the breakdown of extension talks between the U.S. Department of Energy (DOE), which owns the plant, and the privatized USEC Inc., which has leased the operation under the strange accord that has required no leasing fee, nor any continuing legal liability for the mess that USEC has made.
The news is cause for celebration by environmentalists, because the Paducah plant has been powered by three gigawatts of dirty coal in the Ohio Valley. According to the Times Free Press of Tennessee, the Paducah plant was by far the largest buyer of TVA electricity, accounting for $600 million in sales or 5 percent of TVA power last year. And sadly, USEC’s gigantic Freon coolers won’t qualify for TVA’s old-appliance scrap rebate program, because they are radioactive.
The Paducah plant has reputedly emitted more chlorofluorocarbons (CFCs), the worst ozone-depleting and global warming gasses, than all other global sources of CFCs combined in recent years. The plant had been granted a “national security” exemption from the ban on Freon, even though the enriched uranium USEC produced is not used to make nuclear weapons.
Today’s end of operations also has some profound consequences for USEC as it struggles to maintain minimum listing requirements on the New York Stock Exchange. USEC can no longer claim to be the only “American-owned uranium enrichment company,” a claim of dubious veracity anyway since Toshiba became a principal holder of USEC equity, and since federal regulations define a “domestic” producer as one located in the U.S., not according to ownership. URENCO, the European enrichment company, has been enriching uranium at its centrifuge plant in New Mexico since 2010, effectively edging USEC out of the market for centrifuge enrichment in the U.S.
Tomorrow, USEC will be just a broker for uranium obtained from other suppliers, which technically places the company in statutory violation of the USEC Privatization Act of 1996, which made many federal subsidies and concessions available to the company, only on condition that it meets its obligation to enrich uranium. Whether the federal government will demand repayment of the funds transferred to USEC under false pretenses remains to be seen. But don’t hold your breath.
In today’s announcement USEC also says it is issuing WARN Act termination notices to all 1,034 of its Paducah employees, expecting the first round of layoffs to affect about 160 workers between Aug. 5 and Aug. 19. That’s just in time to commemorate the anniversaries of the bombings at Hiroshima and Nagasaki, which fall on Aug. 6 and Aug. 9.
Layoffs are staggered because USEC had attempted to cajole the government into making an additional $13 million payment in material to extend operations and make it look like the plant was doing something. Preparations for property transfer to DOE were therefore delayed. USEC has also utilized Paducah facilities for managing an inventory of Russian uranium, under a separate U.S. government concession called the Megatons to Megawatts Program. That program, however, terminates in December of this year.
The complicated process of transferring leased facilities back to DOE control, and out of regulation by the Nuclear Regulatory Commission, is known as “de-leasing.” In all ways it is comparable to delousing, only the hosts and parasites are smellier.
We all knew it was coming.
Radioactive tuna has been caught off the coast of California. The fingerprint of cesium 137 is unmistakably from the exploded reactors at Fukushima.
But Fukushima's hot hands are also on a very welcome debate still stalemating China's plans to build more than 30 new reactors. Fierce No Nukes opposition continues to escalate in India. Reactor cancellations have spread throughout Europe.
And now we have a chance to stop new reactor construction in the U.S. Reliable reports now confirm that the $8.33 billion loan guarantee for Georgia's Vogtle double-reactor project has still not been finalized. After just five months construction is $1 billion over budget and falling ever further behind schedule. There is no firm price tag. Substandard concrete and rebar steel that doesn't meet official specifications are just the beginning of the nightmare.
You can help Georgia ratepayers and American taxpayers out of this misery by signing our petition.
You can also prepare for life without sushi. National Public Radio has assured us all that the radioactive tuna are perfectly safe to eat. This is the same network whose Scott Simon glibly told us that there were no injuries at Three Mile Island, "not even a sprained ankle."
But as long-time radiation expert Robert Alavarez warns, "it's not harmless." Fukushima released far more cesium-137 than the bombings of Hiroshima and Nagasaki. Many decades ago lesser fallout from nuclear testing forced the confiscation of more than 4 million pounds of fish.
But as the really bad news from Fukushima continues to escalate, we must begin to adjust to far worse than giving up raw fish.
Massive quantities of Japanese trash have begun to wash up on the west coast of North America, from Alaska to California and beyond. The tragic residue of the earthquake and tsunami that killed thousands and cost trillions has crossed the Pacific. The waves of debris include at least one "ghost ship," many motor vehicles, thousands of barrels full of unknown substances and much more.
Much of it is radioactive. Government officials, the nuclear industry and corporate media will lowball the readings and scoff at the health implications. But American beaches are now contaminated, the fish you once ate is unsafe and the situation could get much worse.
Still hovering 100 feet in the air is the spent fuel pool at Fukushima #4. Stacked with thousands of tons of the most lethal substances ever created, the fuel rods could come crashing to the ground with the next big earthquake. Strewn at random, with no cooling water, exposed to the air, the radiation releases would far exceed Chernobyl, the nuclear bomb tests and any other polluting fallout humankind has yet created. That it would go global is a given.
Repeated calls for help from international teams of experts underline the core reality that nobody really knows what to do, except to pray for seismic stability... an impossible dream in Japan, but at this point the only port of last resort.
Thankfully, the doubts instilled by Fukushima and the growing power of the global No Nukes movement have had their impact. Reports from China indicate deep divisions about further reactor construction.
Massive demonstrations and hunger strikes continue in opposition to India's Koodankulam project. Cancellations have spread throughout Europe.
In the meantime we Americans can finally kill the prospect of federal loan guarantees for building new reactors here.
As Mary Olson of the Nuclear Information & Resource Service has pointed out, money for new nukes—which can't get private financing—was set aside early in the George W. Bush administration. But in large part as a result of the power of the grassroots No Nukes movement, not a single guarantee has yet been finalized.
Vogtle is the first project officially designated. But problems with design, planning and execution continue to escalate. So have the rate hikes imposed on Georgia consumers. With no firm price tag or completion date, and with the entire industry in chaos, the Office of Management and Budget has been unable to set reasonable terms that the reactor builders can meet.
It all adds up to an industry in accelerating collapse. Reactor construction at South Carolina's V.C. Summer is also over budget, behind schedule and at the core of massive rate hike fights in both Carolinas.
Reactors proposed for Florida's Levy County have soared over a minimum of $9.5 billion to as high as $12 billion each, and still climbing—far in excess of original estimates. Shutdowns continue at nearby Crystal River, California's San Onofre, the flooded Calhoun in Nebraska and many others. Public pressure to forever close Vermont Yankee, New York's Indian Point, Ohio's Davis-Besse, South Texas and more continues to escalate.
Whether these shut-down movements succeed before a Fukushima happens here, or that spent fuel pool collapses, or Vogtle again escalates in price, remains to be seen.
What's certain is that you can help stop the Vogtle loan guarantee and kill the chance of any new reactors being built here—paving the path at last for a totally green-powered Solartopian Earth.
So next time you start to reach for some sushi, grab a pen or keyboard instead. Sign the petitions, call your representative, run a bake sale—do whatever is needed to kill this loan guarantee and lessen the odds on being harmed by a Fukushima here at home.
By Michael Leonardi
In 1942, Enrico Fermi led a team of scientists at the University of Chicago in creating the world’s first man made nuclear reactor, Chicago Pile 1, and first self-sustaining nuclear chain reaction—nuclear fission. This experiment took place on a squash court underneath the bleachers of the original Alonzo Stagg Field Stadium at the University of Chicago. Heralded as one of the world’s foremost scientific achievements, this scientific breakthrough lead to the Manhattan project and the unleashing of a nuclear age of weaponry married to the production of nuclear energy that has defined man’s most threatening and destructive scientific discovery to date. From Hiroshima to Nagasaki and the numerous nuclear detonations around the world, and on to Three Mile Island, Chernobyl and Fukushima, Fermi’s breakthrough has lead to a wanton assault on humanity and the planet through the use of nuclear weapons and the profit driven production of nuclear energy with its fatal releases of poisonous radioactivity into the land, air and water.
The promise of “Atom’s for Peace” has proven to be a false one as the reemerging anti-nuclear movement in the U.S. struggles to avert more death and killing in Enrico Fermi’s name outside of Monroe, Michigan—on the shores of Lake Erie. Here sits a legacy of narrowly averted nuclear catastrophes and others waiting to happen. The Enrico Fermi Nuclear Generating Station is home to Fermi 1, that suffered a partial fuel meltdown in 1966 inspiring a book by John Fuller and song by Gil Scot Heron called “We Almost lost Detroit” and was officially decommissioned in 1975. The Nuclear Regulatory Commission (NRC) reported at the time that there were no significant radioactive releases, but we have come to learn that this is what the NRC always says when it comes to protecting the nuclear industry’s profit margins. As has been the consensus of the scientific community for decades and thoroughly documented by Harvey Wasserman in this March, 2011 Counterpunch article, there is no safe dose of radiation.
The Enrico Fermi Nuclear Generating Station is also home to Fermi 2, our Fukushima on the Great Lakes. As Kevin Kamps of Beyond Nuclear recently stated, “Fermi 2 in Monroe, Michigan is the largest Fukushima Daiichi identical twin reactor in the world, and without electricity the storage pool will begin boiling away within four hours and twelve minutes, according to Detroit Edison documents. The potentially catastrophic reactor and radioactive waste risks at Fermi 2 could harm the entire Great Lakes and beyond,” he added. This GE Mark 1 reactor was built with design flaws documented by whistleblowers back in the early 1970s and the construction of the Fermi 2 reactor itself leaves grave questions as to how its spent radioactive fuel rods are being and will be monitored and contained safely. In 1976 Gregory C. Minor, Richard B. Hubbard and Dale G. Bridenbaugh blew the whistle on safety problems with nuclear reactors designed by General Electric. The three resigned from their jobs after becoming increasingly convinced that the nuclear reactor design they were reviewing—the Mark 1—was so flawed it could lead to a devastating accident.
The concerns that these whistle blowers brought up have been brought to catastrophic light over the past year with the ongoing crisis at the Fukushima reactors in Japan. "The problems we identified in 1975 were that, in doing the design of the containment, they did not take into account the dynamic loads that could be experienced with a loss of coolant," Bridenbaugh told ABC News in an interview. "The impact loads the containment would receive by this very rapid release of energy could tear the containment apart and create an uncontrolled release."
Long time antinuclear watchdog and observer of the Fermi 2 reactor Michael Keegan points out several current areas of concern with this Fukushima clone. Foremost of his concerns is the situation with the spent fuel pool. “Because Fermi 2 has done several re-racks and by 2015 the spent fuel pool will contain twice the rods it was designed for (4,600 vs 2,300 design), at that time a loss of spent fuel pool circulation would lead to a boil off beginning in 4.2 hours. Detroit Edison contends that they have water that could be pumped at a faster rate than the boil off. How long that could last if the station was in a black out, with loss of emergency diesel generators? Spent fuel pool boil off can lead to the spontaneous combustion of the zirconium casing of fuel rods and a catastrophic release of radioactivity.”
Keegan’s thorough evaluation of NRC documents pertaining to the Fermi 2 reactor details numerous mishaps and safety issues that have occurred with the plants operation since it went on line in 1988. In the summer of 2010, a tornado damaged the facility and forced the plant to shut down. The building housing the plant’s safety equipment was damaged and there was a loss of power at the plant. The plant had to depend on its emergency diesel generators at this time.
With 500 tons of spent fuel in a spent fuel pool located five floors above the ground at Fermi 2, there is another inconceivable and highly concerning problem facing the safe operation of the facility. Welds in the original blueprints from 1970 that were supposed to be built in to bolster vertical beams connecting the walls to the floors were never built in. According to Keegan, “So in 2010 discovery of missing welds that appeared on 1970 blue prints prevented the procedure of lifting the 125 tons of spent fuel bundles from the 5th floor down to ground with the crane. The floors and ceilings could not bare the load of the crane because welds were missing on the vertical beams. The crane is rated at 125 tons.”
Fermi 2’s most notable mishap occurred on Christmas Day of 1993. The results of this accident was the dumping of hundreds of thousands of gallons of radioactive water directly into Lake Erie.
The catastrophic failure of the main turbine at Fermi 2, Christmas Day 1993
The main turbine automatically tripped due to an erroneous mechanical overspeed signal caused by high vibrations. The reactor, which was operating at 93 percent power, received an automatic scram signal triggered by the turbine trip. The high vibration was caused by catastrophic failure of the turbine blades. Ejected blade parts ripped through the turbine casing and severed condenser tubes and other piping. The rupture of piping supplying hydrogen gas to the generator for cooling caused a large fire. The plant’s fire brigade took 37 minutes to muster, dress and enter the turbine building to fight the fire. Their efforts were hindered by numerous communication problems, including malfunctions of personnel motion detectors (e.g., “man down” alarms).
About 500,000 gallons of water from broken general service water piping and turbine building closed cooling water piping flooded the radwaste building basement to a depth of approximately six feet. Workers were slow to isolate the systems with broken piping to terminate the flooding, due to the total lack of procedures for a turbine building internal flood. The severed condenser tubes permitted water from Lake Erie to flow into the condenser hotwell, from where it was pumped to the condensate storage tank. The standby feedwater system pumped water from the condensate storage tank to the reactor vessel. The lake water caused conductivity and chloride levels of the reactor vessel water to significantly exceed specifications. (Fermi 2 Outage report Dec. 25, 1993 to Jan. 18, 1995 (1.1 years)).
Now Detroit Edison, the full owner of the Enrico Fermi Nuclear Generating Station, is proposing the construction of Fermi 3. With utterly false projections of energy usage in the state of Michigan that do not reflect the reality that electricity usage is actually shrinking due to conservation and deindustrialization. Detroit Energy claims that nuclear power is the cheapest means to meet its customers demands. The projected cost to construct the Fermi 3 Economic Simplified Boiling Water Reactor is $10 billion. Citizens groups are challenging the construction of Fermi 3 on a myriad of grounds ranging from the impact it will have on endangered species in the area to its contributing to the growing problem of toxic algae blooms on Lake Erie. The criminals at the Nuclear Regulatory Commission perceive that the construction and operation of a new nuclear reactor on the Enrico Fermi site in Newport, Michigan will have no significant environmental impact.
Detroit Edison and its Enrico Fermi Nuclear complex are now in the cross hairs of a growing grassroots mobilization against this continued nuclear psychosis emanating from the energy corporations and their corporate sponsored political mouthpieces from Obama on down through the bureaucracies of the criminal Nuclear Regulatory Commission and Environmental Protection Agency. Teaming up with national nuclear watchdog Beyond Nuclear, a grassroots coalition of citizens groups and Occupiers are joining forces in the Freeze Our Fukushima’s Campaign calling for the immediate closure of the 23 GE Mark 1 reactors, the largest of which is the Fermi 2 reactor. Coming actions include a protest of the GE shareholder’s meeting on the April 25 and the Detroit Edison shareholder’s meeting on the May 3, both taking place in Detroit. Pat Birnie of the GE Shareholders alliance an activist group of shareholders within GE have worked with Kevin Kamps at Beyond Nuclear to prepare the following documents and resolution that will be presented at the shareholder’s meeting in Detroit. As documented in this December, 2011 article called Occupy the NRC, both Detroit Edison and the rest of the nuclear power industry will not build another nuclear reactor in the U.S. with out a major fight.
For more information, click here.
Michael Leonardi is a writer and activist with Occupy Toledo. He currently lives with his family, 25 miles from Fermi 2 and 25 miles from Davis Besse.