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Tuesday, April 26, 2011

What the Fukushima

Now that the world media has stopped paying attention, the folks battling the blown apart nuclear reactors in Japan are breaking worse news. Today we learn that the water collecting under the reactors is much more intensely radioactive than previously reported:

TEPCO says a survey last Thursday found an increase in the density of radioactive substances in the water in the basement of the No. 4 reactor's turbine building.

The company says the levels of cesium-134 and 137 increased about 250-fold and iodine-131 increased about 12 times compared with one month ago. TEPCO says contamination of this level requires them to prioritize the transfer or disposal of the water.

Iodine-131 has a half-life of only 8 days. After the course of 32 days, the amount of iodine-131 in any given sample should be 1/16th of what it was at the start of that period. Instead, the concentration of that radioisotope in the collected Fukushima wastewater has increased to 12 times what it was before.

Yikes, people -- yikes.

The water under reactor 4 is coming either from what they're pouring into the damaged fuel pool in that reactor building, or from water that's getting shot at reactor 3 next door. A lot of melted fuel must be getting washed out of one or both of those facilities, and the rate at which the oozing wreckage is getting mixed in with the water must be increasing substantially. Another possibility is that some of the wrecked nuclear fuel has gone critical in uncontrolled reactions since the earthquake -- a scenario that Tokyo Electric and the Japanese government aren't talking about. If that's the case, one reason the iodine isn't dissipating is that nuclear fission is continuing, at least sporadically, producing more iodine.

The cesium isotopes have half lives of 2 years and 30 years, and so their buildup is going to continue at a much more sustained rate than the iodine. And where there is radioactive iodine and cesium, there's also radioactive strontium and heaven knows what other dangerous radionuclides.

Given how badly damaged those reactor buildings are, it would be a miracle if that nasty water isn't leaking into the ocean, either via the groundwater or directly. And it's a given that no human being is going to get near that water any time soon.

Which brings us to the robots. Who doesn't love a robot story? Wouldn't it be great if remote-controlled machines saved the day by fixing the many problems at the destroyed reactors? A closer look at the robots that have been employed at Fukushima so far exposes that as highly wishful thinking.

In their first expeditions into a few of the radiation zones, the robots revealed themselves to be wimpy, spindly things and by no means high-tech marvels. For example, to take a radiation reading, two robots were needed: one to hold the Geiger counter and the other to point a video camera at the Geiger counter so that the plant workers could read the dial. It appears the new joke will be about how many Tokyo robots it takes to screw in a light bulb.

And when the 'bots entered reactor 2, the humidity was high, and the lens on the videocam immediately steamed up, and so that was the end of that foray. High-tech salvation, this isn't.

The promoters of nuclear energy continue to remind us that the Fukushima reactors were old, and that more recent designs are safer. But that only throws into a worse light the continuing practice by the U.S. Nuclear Regulatory Commission of tacking an extra decade or two onto the licenses of reactors of the same design and vintage as Fukushima.

Here's one case from the Atlantic coast in New Jersey, a mere stone's throw from where our cousin the blogger lives. As an alert reader pointed out on our blog yesterday, that plant has already been busted for leaking radioactive tritium into the nearby Barnegat Bay, and into the groundwater. The reactor is 42 years old; it has outlived its design life. When it came online, the Beatles were still a band, and "Come Together" was the number 1 song in America. The reactor is old and brittle. It's tired. It has less containment than Fukushima. It shouldn't run for another two decades, but the nuclear cheerleaders at the NRC are happy to let it do so. The license now runs to 2029.

Do we ever learn? Not when there's money to be made.

In recent years, Wall Street ne'er-do-wells like Henry Paulson have been doing to Americans the same thing that the power companies have been doing to us for decades with nuclear power: privatizing the profits and socializing the losses. In the case of the nukes, the losses are cancer -- sneaky losses that can't be conclusively proven. It's money vs. life, and we all know where that comes out.

Comments (14)

I know it's a serious topic but I got a good chuckle out of your title.

Jack, not to put you on tilt, but radioactivity from coal-fired plants might be more dangerous near-term. http://www.ornl.gov/info/ornlreview/rev26-34/text/colmain.html

Harmful effects from coal aren't very exciting though.

What I don't get is why the O and WW aren't updating us on the Hanford Nuclear Reservation with its strontium-90 ground water leakage into the Columbia River (measured at 1200 times the EPA standard)and the fact that the only active nuclear power plant in the northwest U.S. (Columbia Generating Station) resides there also... a few hundred miles upriver from Portland. It uses the Columbia River for its coolant. The power plant also lies on a earthquake fault that runs from the Puget Sound area to the Wallowa Mountains. The plant is owned by an electrical consortium and generates 9% of Washington's electrical needs. If there was an "accident," it is mostly Oregonians who would be in the path of destruction.

"Privatizing the profits, socializing the losses". Jack, if that is your line, it's the best. I don't have enough digits to count all the local examples of privatizing and socializing.

"It was 25 years ago today that the Chernobyl Disaster, the worst nuclear power plant accident in history, occurred in Ukraine. During a systems test, the plant experienced a series of power surges, which led to an explosion in the core of one of its reactors, and a fire that burned for 10 days. Radioactive material 400 times greater than the amount released at Hiroshima shot into the atmosphere and blanketed the surrounding countryside. The public was not informed of the disaster until three days later, and only then because the radiation had traveled almost 700 miles to Sweden, triggering alarms at a nuclear power plant there. The Soviet government was forced to admit that a disaster had occurred. The nearby city of Pripyat was evacuated. The residents, believing that the evacuation would only last three days, left all their personal belongings behind, and most of them have never returned, although some elderly Ukrainians have defied the Exclusion Zone to return to their homes in spite of the high radiation levels. "

Interesting read from this month's Wired magazine about Chernobyl 25 years later...


"About a decade ago, the animal sightings began. Naturalists started to report signs of an apparently remarkable recovery in the ecology of the quarantined territory. They photographed the tracks of a brown bear and saw wolves and boar roaming the streets of the abandoned town of Pripyat. In 2002, a young eagle owl—one of only 100 thought to be living in all of Ukraine at the time—was seen dozing on an abandoned excavator near the sarcophagus. The following year, an endangered white-tailed eagle was captured and radio-tagged within 3 miles of the plant. By early 2005, a herd of 21 rare Przewalski’s horses that had escaped from captivity in the quarantined area six years earlier had bred successfully and expanded to 64. It seemed the disaster that had banished industry, agriculture, pesticides, cars, and hunting from Chernobyl had inadvertently created a sprawling wildlife park."

Granted, thats not really what the whole article is about, but its pretty awesome how nature has taken care of itself regardless of what humans have done.

Hanford watcher: Since I was doing some study of the OWL (Olympic-Wallowa Lineament) of what you speak, the CGS is located over ten miles north of the OWL in the "Pasco Basin."
Your concerns over ground water leakage is very valid, and water flushes downhill!

The Hanford site is a very messy place of government creation. A Fukushima size disaster in the area would hardly be the CGS, it would be the rupture of the waste tanks. What the "O and WW" and the sheeple who read them don't realize, is the problem of their contents is not its radioactive qualities, but the chemical composition. If a fissure opened a channel to the Columbia, Jack's 3 eyed fish would be the least of the concerns.

If you are indeed a "Hanford watcher" look into what's in those tanks and the effect of Obama shutting down the Yucca depository.

I saw a hopeful story out of MIT about a cobalt catalyst that greatly diminishes the amount of energy it takes to separate the hydrogen and oxygen in water. It's early but a lot of researchers are going to pursue this strategy now. Imagine taking water and sunlight and making an energy source for your car, etc...Hopeful.

radioactivity from coal-fired plants might be more dangerous near-term.

Dangerous? Sure. More dangerous than a nuclear plant? You're dreaming, or selling something.


Hanford is the most contaminated area in the Western hemisphere. Today radioactive and toxic contamination flows into the Columbia River, which flows through Hanford for fifty miles, at levels as high as 1,500 times the federal Drinking Water Standard. Over a million gallons of deadly liquid High-Level Nuclear Waste has leaked from tanks at Hanford, and over 1.7 trillion gallons of these deadly wastes was dumped into the soil. The contamination is spreading towards the River faster than the federal Energy Department (USDOE) claimed was possible.

Hearings on USDOE's Plan to send 12,000 truckloads of EXTREMELY radioactive "GTCC" waste to Hanford for burial – will these trucks be coming through your community? Would add as much radioactivity as is in all of Hanford's leaky High-Level Nuclear Waste Tanks:

Portland Thursday May 19th 6:30 PM Doubletree Hotel Lloyd Center

This may happen, with truckloads of radioactive waste driving through Portland, the Gorge, Blue Mts. and Spokane to Hanford.

We need to not only consider going to this hearing, but really put pressure on our elected officials to fight this. Apparently, Senator Merkley is working on this, doesn't look like Senator Wyden is doing much here, but call them and find out for yourselves what they and Blumenauer and all the others will do on our behalf.

As you explain, Jack, there are two failures here. One is the situation = bad.
Two is the communication = criminally silent.

'Bad' or any other descriptive word is an understatement for the situation of global nuclear radiation in which millions, tens of millions, even more than a billion human souls perish ... slowly and surely.

A clear explanation of lethal matters:

Measuring Radiation -From Becquerels to Sieverts, From Birth to Death By RUSSELL D. HOFFMAN, CounterPunch.COM, April 22 - 24, 2011

A Curie is a lot of radiation. A single Becquerel... not so much.

- Radioactive disintegrations, of course, don't actually happen in fractional amounts. They either happen or they don't. WHEN they are likely to happen can be guessed at by the isotope's half-life, but it's only a guess.

-- But knowing the disintegrations per second doesn't tell you very much, really. To guess at the damage a given amount of radiation causes, you still need to know the average energy of the disintegrations. And of course, you need to know the type of emission: alpha, beta, gamma, x-ray, etc.

--- But knowing the decays per second and the type of emissions, and their average energy levels, is still only a small part of understanding the potential damage from any particular radioactive release such as Fukushima Daiichi. You also need to know the isotopic composition of the sample.

---- But even knowing all THAT isn't nearly enough. The next step is to estimate the absorbed dose.

----- But, absorbed dose still doesn't provide an estimate of the damage the radiation may do. For that, there is effective dose, which is measured in REM ("roentgen equivalent man") or sieverts.

------ All of these yardsticks are blunderbuss attempts to estimate the potential damage from radiation as a function of energy dumped into the body. ... What is really happening when radiation damages the body, in large or small doses, is a very complex microscopic assault on living tissue. ... So simply averaging the assault across "whole bodies" can miss things and is improper. Another adjustment factor is needed.

Analysts use these numbers to try to compare apples to oranges, or, more specifically, for example, tritium exposure in drinking water to an xray of your knee ....

None of these values consider the effects of bioaccumulation: Radioactive isotopes build up in the edible portions of one living thing ... and are then eaten by another ... up the food chain to us, at the "top".

It's all a very inexact science, and that inexactitude is used by the nuclear industry to hide what is really nothing short of premeditated murder.
At the conclusion of that article is a link to Hoffman's blog:
Ace Hoffman - Nuclear power reports.

The first million is the hardest...
April 26th, 2011

Dear Readers,

Today is the 25th anniversary of Chernobyl. Today, a quarter century ago, the ruthless murder of a million people began. And the cover-up.

How quickly we forget! How destined we are to repeat!

Today we honor and remember the already-dead from Chernobyl:

1) The "liquidators" who helped clean it up (about 800,000 young men) who now die like flies of cancer, leukemia, and a thousand other stranger ailments.

2) The local citizens who were not told for a week or more that anything was wrong ....

3) The people around the world who also MUST have died ....

4) The descendents, for at least seven generations, of all these people -- that's how far the DNA is likely to show damage, perhaps even further down the line.

"The million" are only the ones that were reasonably easy to count.

It's time to stop the assault on human and other life. It's time to turn off the nukes.

Nuclear power has failed miserably. It's not enough to prevent new reactors, or even to prevent relicensing -- one unit at Fukushima had just been relicensed for another ten years just weeks before the catastrophe began. It's not enough to wait months and months for the "lessons learned" from Fukushima. It's not enough to be promised improvements, changes, more and better backup systems. All those are nice. But we need to close the reactors down forever.

That the public as a whole is so indifferent to this global catastrophe, the likes of which has never been experienced in the history of civilization, despite having been exposed to and having access to reasonably accurate information on what is happening, is to me beyond belief. We seem to be witnessing a totally new level of active denial and intentional unreality in the mass population. Although most people are relatively ignorant scientifically, by choice, and could not possibly explain why ionizing radiation is dangerous to life as we know it, most people do possess the deep-seated and almost common-sense intuition that it's certainly not good for us. So why do so few people seem to care at all about what is going on?
[Friday, April 22, 2011 - Mother Earth is "hot"! We irradiated her!] Earth Day indeed...

Dear Readers,

The nuclear industry's constant release of radioactive isotopes into the environment lays down a patina of poison which damages all living things.

We have scorned and scorched our mother earth! She's hot! We irradiated her!

We defiled her. We challenged her. We lost, of course. Now we suffer, and all her other beautiful creatures suffer, and once again, an enormous area has been created where no one can ever live again.

Birds fly in. Birds eat radioactive insects, rodents, reptiles -- many of which can survive much higher doses of radiation than the birds can.

In 20 years, maybe in 10, someone will go into the Fukushima exclusion zone, as they do around Chernobyl now, and take pictures and count animals per square mile, and pronounce the area a "thriving" wildlife sanctuary.

When an animal slows down because it gets cancer, does it get health care?

Of course not! It gets eaten!

Nothing to see.

3-legged ponies won't survive long in the wild.

Nothing to see.

There's variation everywhere. But what "produces" evolution is NOT random damage to our DNA! It's the semi-random joining of two DNA strands together in new sequences which produce all the variation we need in life. Why muck with such an exquisite system? The other method might work occasionally, but usually it just produces deformities, cancer, and pain.

Those who go into the "forbidden zones" see what they want to see.

So here's to Mother Earth.

There are 440 other Fukushimas waiting to happen (plus another thousand or so military reactors).

Earth day is a sham. A mockery. A sin. If we each devote only one day a year to saving Mother Earth, well then, as we can see, she doesn't stand a chance.

It might seem right and justly appropriate to confiscate all nuclear 'power facilities', decommission all of it to the last nut and bolt, shackle each and every complicit capitalist who profitted as little as a dime and chain them to an anvil with a sledge until the ungodly metal monstrosities are pounded into plowshares ... or they die, whichever comes first.

That's the situation.

The Oyster Creek facility is scheduled to be shut down by 2020.

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