Monday, April 11, 2011

The Story of a Quake, A Tsunami and Nuclear Nightmare –

When Will We Stop this Energy Addiction and False Adverstising

By Paul K. Haeder

How can the green blog not jump into the fray now precipitated by the disasters in Japan. Not so much motivated by the tsunami and earthquake ravaged Japan and their nuclear reactors heaving smoke and shuttering under hydrogen explosions. I’m steeled to respond to the storm surge of utter stupidity coming from such shining examples of industry shilling as the Paper of record New York Times and that toad of a man, Mitch McConnell.

Listen to this blowhard republican leader McConnell:

"I don't believe that making US energy policy based on something happening in another country is how we should make policy. I don't think right after a major environmental catastrophe is a very good time to be making American domestic policy."
Sure, the nuclear plant in Vermont , built by the same American company as the one now exploding in Japan – “we bring good things to life” General Electric -- has nothing to do with what’s happening in Japan.

Vermont Yankee Nuclear Power Plant is 38 years old, one year younger than the Fukushima Daiichi plant. State legislators had voted to close the facility, an almost identical twin to the Japanese plant. Constant tritium leaks, plus as state citizenry who wants the Yankee plant done for, isn’t even in the Republican leader’s mindset.

Here’s a contrast in character: Different politician, different party, different state.

“My heart obviously goes out to the people of Japan. Extraordinary crisis and everyone’s worst nightmare, when they have aging nuclear power plants in their country or in their state. Vermont is no different. We have an aging nuclear power plant here. It’s owned by Entergy Louisiana, a company that we found we can’t trust. And obviously, it asks all of us to reexamine our policy of irrational exuberance when it comes to extending the lives of aging nuclear power plants.” That’s Vermont governor Peter Shumlin.

Then, give a guy a multi-million dollar talking head job at CNBC, and you get this sort of reaction to the human death toll in Japan from the quake and tsunami:

“The human toll here looks to be much worse than the economic toll, and we can be grateful for that,” said Larry Kudlow on national TV.

The problem is the nuclear industry, like the tobacco pimps, have put scientists and politicians (and the media-slash-press) in its back pocket. The total payout for a nuclear disaster caused by, say, one of the dozens of GE-designed plants in the US, with the same redundancy safety systems as the Japanese plant, is $12 billion. That’s all those nuke plants are insured for. Guess who pays the rest of the price for death, pollution, loss of livelihoods and long-term devastation?

The US taxpayer.

Chernobyl, if you read a recent book on the extent of human deaths, is more than just entire cities and hundreds of square miles that are uninhabitable for centuries to come.

Japan is not much bigger than the area ruined by the Chernobyl disaster. Think about my neck of the woods, Tucson, just a few hundred miles from the San Onofre nuke plant between San Diego and LA.

Think about the San Andres earthquake fault line.

The New York Times or the right-leaning NPR, or all points in between and right of them all, none of the mainstream and corporate press will report on the facts coming from a book that purports that nearly one million people around the world died from exposure to radiation released by the April 26, 1986 nuclear disaster at the Chernobyl reactor.

This is the 25th anniversary coming up in a month, and everyone now, including GE egghead engineers and pointy-headed politicians and jaded journalists, should be reading this New York Academy of Sciences published book, "Chernobyl: Consequences of the Catastrophe for People and the Environment," compiled by authors Alexey Yablokov of the Center for Russian Environmental Policy in Moscow, and Vassily Nesterenko and Alexey Nesterenko of the Institute of Radiation Safety, in Minsk, Belarus.

Read it: more than 900,000 people dying early deaths caused by nuclear contamination. In one quarter of a century.

Look, when an energy source can produce that sort of death and long-term environmental death, and for Japan, dysfunction, when it fails, well, the price of a gallon of gas can be $6 or $100 for that matter. Life is worth more than this non-renewable, heavy energy dependent, polluting industry called the Nuclear Lobby.

One expert who’s been making the rounds on news platforms like Al Jazeera and Democracy Now is Arnold Gundersen, a 39-year veteran of the nuclear industry. He’s the main engineer at Fairwinds Associates. He also has worked as a nuclear plant operator and served as an expert witness in the Three Mile Island accident investigation.

“Within 90 days, the iodine health risks will disappear, because that will decay away. But the nasty isotopes — the cesium and strontium -- will remain for 30 years. And they’re volatile,” Gundersen said. “ fter Three Mile Island, strontium was detected 150 miles away from the reactor. That ends up in cow’s milk and doesn’t go away for 300 years. The releases from these plants will last for a year, and will contain elements that will remain in the environment for 300 years, even in the best case.”

So, yeah, it makes sense McConnell and the nuclear industry won’t see the Japan tragedy as a learning experience or teachable moment. Iodine and cesium were already detected in the environment before the first unit exploded in Japan. “When you see that, that’s clearly an indication that the containment has breached,” Gundersen added.

If a meltdown happens, and with the prevailing winds, nothing will be inhabitable for 30 or more years within a 20-mile radius, AND the nasty isotopes will head on over here to the Pacific Coast, and inland.

So Chernobyl affected the groundwater of Kiev, some 80 miles away, and there’s nothing to mitigate the toxicity, and it lasts for 300 years, the radioactive fallout that is.

The CEO of GE, the McConnell’s, the tea baggers, all the nuclear industry shills, they won’t read the books or listen to the radio interviews of someone like Nobel Peace Prize-nominated pediatrician Helen Caldicott, host of If You Love This Planet, broadcast on Spokane’s own KYRS-FM.

Dr. Caldicott has sparked deep interest in the risks of nuclear technology and global environmental collapse with her work with Physicians for Social Responsibility. That’s an organization, the Washington branch, I have worked with, and PSR has thousands of doctors teaching the public about the medical implications of nuclear war and nuclear power.

These Obamas and Limbaughs and Clintons and Bushes never have the Dr. Caldicotts of the world at their tables for polite dinner conversations.

“Unfortunately, radioactive elements are invisible to the human senses – taste, smell, and sight. Also unfortunately, the incubation time for radiation-induced cancer is five to 60 years, a long, silent latent period. No cancer ever denotes its specific cause,” the Australian Caldicott said.

“Among these biologically active elements that are routinely released from nuclear power plants are tritium which lasts for more than 100 years (there is no limit to the amount of tritium that escapes); xenon, krypton, and argon which decay to cesium and strontium; carbon 14 which remains radioactive for thousands of years; cesium 137 – radioactive for hundreds of years; and iodine 129, which has a half life of 15.7 million years.”

The World Nuclear Industry Status Report published in August 2009 tells us that the nuclear industry continues to face huge construction costs. The Olkiluoto, Finland, reactor is three years behind schedule and 55 per cent over budget ($7 billion). So, globally, the 435 commercial reactors provided 5.5 per cent of the international
commercial primary energy production in 2008.

The spent fuel rods at Fukushima are getting hot and could start burning, according to energy experts. So, if those so-deemed spent rods – these are highly radioactive and unstable -- start to burn, then massive amounts of radioactive material might be released into the atmosphere and then this would, in turn, parachute into the wind, so to speak, across the Northern Hemisphere.

So, as anyone close to Mitch McConnell with a little bit of brains could tell him, unlike nuclear reactors, spent fuel rods are put in pools that are not contained in hardened or sealed structures. Officials with Green Action Kyoto met with Fukushima plant officials and government representatives last year and these engineers and government energy wonks basically dismissed Green Action’s concerns about spent fuel pools.

One expert close to home, Akira Tokuhiro, professor of nuclear engineering at the University of Idaho, is one of a group of experts in nuclear reactor engineering, design and safety and who has been monitoring the situation in Japan.

According to the Tokyo-borne Tokuhiro, in a UI press release, the situation in Japan is both dire and emblematic of that island’s reliance on energy. His concepts of sustainability and energy development are also telling of the dichotomy between the worlds of scientists who are proponents of nuclear energy and scientists who want research and development to go in completely different directions:

“Commercial nuclear energy is a highly-regulated global enterprise of industrialized nations. For Japan, a nation without energy resources, this is a painful decision; that is, to replace the power of some 50 nuclear plants by some other energy source. For the rest of the world and the global nuclear enterprise, this incident will delay and add cost to building new reactors. I thus see that we are inching our way toward higher energy prices and possible energy shortages as early as 2020-2030,” Tokuhiro said.

“As with fossil fuels, if we are not determined to construct new U.S. nuclear power plants in the near-term and for the foreseeable future, we will undermine our energy security and economic sustainability. Our only choice is to use much less energy and go back to the lifestyle of the '50s and '60s when life was not ‘open’ 24/7/365 days a year.”

All that potential loss of life and territory for an industry so potentially volatile and one that relies on a first-level safety net called the electrical grid is not exactly confidence inspiring. And when that electrical network went kaput, after a 9.0 quake, the second safety net kicked in -- a bank of diesel generators. But the tsunami, just fifteen minutes later, swamped the generators. The last safety net, batteries, lasted eight hours.

Now the cores are in meltdown mode.

Not a great advertisement in favor of a nuclear energy renaissance.

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