Feb 10 2012

Fukushima in Georgia

I won’t defend them, this is what they say they want.  I do feel kind of bad for their neighbors and the rest of us.

First of all, what do we know about Fukushima that we didn’t know a month ago?

New Containment Flaw Identified in the BWR Mark 1

Arnie Gundersen, Fairewinds Associates

Feb. 6, 2012

(W)e know that right before the explosion, the containment vent was working. Now the Japanese are saying that the containment vent was working, but the pipes were somehow or other leaking hydrogen into the plant as well and that is what caused the explosion.

To my way of thinking, the data does not support the interpretation of the nuclear industry and the Japanese. What the data does support is the Brunswick test from 40 years ago. It seems to me that for 8 hours or more, the containment at Fukushima was basically ruptured, that the top had popped up, and gasses were sliding out, so that it could not go over 100 pounds per square inch.

And hydrogen gasses were leaking out of the containment and into the reactor building for a long period of time. After that, it only took a spark to blow the reactor building up. This is a really important distinction. The nuclear industry, the Nuclear Regulatory Commission and the Japanese are saying that we can make the vent stronger so that this accident cannot happen. But if the nuclear head is lifting up, the vent is irrelevant. The containment on the Mark I design has a design flaw that the containment vent cannot solve.

Cancer Risk To Young Children Near Fukushima Daiichi Underestimated

Arnie Gundersen, Fairewinds Associates

January 17, 2012

(Y)oung girls in the Fukushima Prefecture are going to get 5 times the exposure they would get from 2 rem. That means that about one in 100 young girls is going to get cancer as a result of the exposure in Fukushima Prefecture. And that is for every year they are in that radiation zone. If you are in there for 5 years, it is 5 out of 100 young girls will get cancer.

Oh, and there’s a serious possibility that Daiichi #2 could go re-critical-

Tepco Injects Boric Acid Into Reactor as Temperatures Rise

By Tsuyoshi Inajima, Bloomberg News

Feb 6, 2012 10:18 PM ET

The temperature of the No. 2 reactor was 70.1 degrees Celsius (158 degrees Fahrenheit) as of 6 a.m. today, according to preliminary data, Akitsuka Kobayashi, a spokesman for the utility, said by phone. The reading fell from 72.2 degrees at 5 a.m. this morning, and is below the 93 degrees that’s used to define a cold shutdown, or safe state, of the reactor.

Since Feb. 1, temperatures at the bottom of the No. 2 reactor vessel have risen by more than 20 degrees Celsius, according to the company’s data. Tepco, as the utility is known, and the government announced that the Fukushima plant reached a cold shutdown on Dec. 16, nine months after the Tohoku earthquake and tsunami wrecked the nuclear station, and caused three reactors to meltdown and release radiation.

About 95,000 cubic meters, which is enough to fill 38 Olympic-sized swimming pools, of highly radioactive water may still be in the basements, even after the company has processed more than 220,000 cubic meters of contaminated water, according to Tepco’s latest estimate on Feb. 1.

That would be 93 Celcius in case you’re as confused as I was.  What’s the big deal about re-criticality?  Well, it’s not an atomic bomb per se but from this Time Magazine report from March 30, 2011

To nuclear workers, there are few events more fearful than a criticality accident. In such a scenario, the fissile material in a reactor core-be it enriched uranium or plutonium-undergoes a spontaneous chain reaction, releasing a flash of aurora-blue light and a surge of neutron radiation; the gamma rays, neutrons and radioactive fission products emitted during criticality are highly dangerous to humans. Criticality occurs so rapidly-within a few fractions of a second-and so unpredictably that it can suddenly kill workers without warning.

I’m sure some of you learned in history class just as I did of Harry K. Daghlian and Louis Slotin.

More information and links in an excellent piece by Harvey Wasserman aka solartopia at Firedog Lake.

Gregg Levine (a name you may recognize better) has some interesting pieces up too-

Nuclear Regulatory Commission Ignores Fukushima, Green-Lights First New Reactors in 34 Years

By: Gregg Levine, Firedog Lake

Thursday February 9, 2012 4:59 pm

The NTTF (Fukushima Near-Term Task Force) recommendations, geared toward improving safety and preventing another disaster like the one still evolving at Japan’s Fukushima Daiichi nuclear power facility, have still not become official government rules-some are projected to take up to five years to draft and implement-and so, for now, the new reactor construction will get to pretend the Tohoku quake and tsunami, and the resulting core meltdowns and widespread radioactive contamination, never happened.

The Vogtle reactors are of a new (or, let’s call it “new-ish”) design. The AP1000 reactor was just approved by the NRC in December, over the objections of numerous scientists and engineers, who saw claims of innovation insufficient to counter the dangers native to any Pressurized Water Reactor (PWR) design. Upon examination, many of the "improvements" to the AP1000 look more like ways to cut construction costs. Even so, a single new AP1000 is expected to cost anywhere from $8 billion to $14 billion dollars-and, it should be noted, no US nuclear facility has ever come in anywhere close to on time or on budget. The US government has already pledged over $8 billion in federal loan guarantees to cover construction of the Georgia reactors, since without the government backstop, no private financial institutions will invest in such a high-cost, high-risk project. Southern Co. has already spent $4 billion preparing the Vogtle site for the anticipated new construction.

“I cannot support this licensing as if Fukushima never happened,” said Gregory Jaczko after the Thursday vote-but thanks to the four other commissioners of his captured agency, licensing as if Fukushima never happened is exactly what the NRC did.

NRC Vogtle Reactor Approval Should Blow Lid Off Nuclear Finance Scam

By: Gregg Levine, Firedog Lake

Friday February 10, 2012 9:30 am

Coming almost exactly two years after the Obama administration granted the project $8.33 billion in federal loan guarantees, the NRC’s OK for the project did not signal a groundbreaking at Vogtle. Thanks to a redefinition of what constitutes construction, drafted under a former NRC commissioner who now works for the nuclear industry, Southern started building on the site long before the AP1000 reactor design was finally approved by the NRC last December. And foundations were poured into the Georgia earth before environmental impact surveys were even required to be filed. So, Thursday’s move did not actually start construction, but it did start the roulette wheel turning on a massive financial gamble where Southern Company is pretty much assured of winning, and US taxpayers and Georgia utility customers are guaranteed to lose.

As this month marks two years since the government agreed to the loan guarantees, it will mark almost as long a time since the Southern Alliance for Clean Energy (SACE) filed a Freedom of Information Act (FOIA) request for the details of the deal the DOE struck with Southern Co., and thus it also marks almost two years of stonewalling by the Obama administration and the energy consortium.

These, of course, are just the costs incurred if everything goes more or less right. And these, of course, are just the costs of building the reactors-it has nothing to do with the fueling, the maintenance, the waste removal and clean up should anything get, you know, “unusual.” But since the taxpayers and ratepayers pretty much built the new reactors for them, those costs should come out of Southern Co/Georgia Power’s profits once they start charging for the actual power, right?

Uh. . . wrong. As George W. Bush was headed out the door, he made sure that the Department of Energy would be liable for all costs from any high-level radioactive waste generated at the new Vogtle units. And, of course, as is true for all facilities in the US, the Price-Anderson Act indemnifies the industry against claims arising nuclear accidents.

And the Nuclear Regulatory Commission’s approval-coming when it does-does nothing to make those accidents less likely. The NRC voted for Vogtle’s COLA over the objections of its chairman, Greg Jaczko, who thought safety rules that should come from the post-Fukushima recommendations should have been stipulated as essential to any new license. And the AP1000’s design, which Toshiba-Westinghouse likes to tout as safer than its close cousin, the pressurized water reactor, is suspected to be anything but.

Meanwhile, trouble at nuclear reactors worldwide continues apace. At Japan’s Fukushima Daiichi, unit two, which was said to have been brought to a “cold shutdown” in December, has experienced what is called a “re-criticality”-in other words, the temperature inside the ruptured containment vessel has begun to rise again, up more than 20 degrees Celsius since February 1. Officials from Japanese power company TEPCO have done a poor job of explaining why this might be happening or what it might mean for the future, but they do admit to the necessity of increasing the amount of water and boric acid pumped into the damaged reactor to counteract the warming. And, since there are holes and cracks in the reactor vessel, that means more radioactive waste water pouring out of the building and into the basements and surrounding plant grounds-more water on top of the 95,000 cubic meters already believed to be there, and on top of the 220,000 cubic meters that TEPCO has claimed they “processed” (and then dumped back into the environment).

Back in the USA, the San Onofre plant remains completely shutdown after one reactor was found to be leaking tritium on January 31. Meanwhile, the other reactor, offline for refueling and repairs since January 9, was discovered to have alarmingly excessive wear inside its almost new turbine tubes.

And at Prairie Island, a nuclear facility in southeastern Minnesota, Xcel Energy has copped to two separate toxic chemical and radiological spills. One happened last November, but Xcel did not alert residents of the Prairie Island Indian Community-a whopping 600 yards from the power plant-till last week. The second happened just last Friday, February 3, but Xcel waited to give notice till Monday because the leak happened “‘after business hours’ just before the weekend.”

This is but a small sample-less than a week’s worth-of the nuclear world the NRC has now voted to expand. With each of these items should come a list of questions and a cavalcade of caution, but the NRC’s rulings on the AP1000 have defied the facts on the ground. Meanwhile, the entire federal government seems hell-bent on ignoring the fiscal realities, instead choosing to guarantee that money flow from the pockets of taxpayers into the coffers of nuclear energy corporations, whether or not those corporations ever provide a kilowatt of power to those taxpayers.

Many who are outraged by the bailouts of the banks should see each of these nuclear facilities as a little version of the same “socialize the risk, privatize the profit” model. A nuclear facility might only lose billions of dollars instead of trillions, but as Everett Dirksen observed in a cheaper era, “A billion here, a billion there, pretty soon you’re talking real money.”

And for those that think this week’s $25 billion settlement with the five big financial institutions guilty of mortgage fraud is somehow a grand amount-just remember that you can’t get two new nuclear power stations for that. . . and after typical delays and cost overruns, $25 billion likely won’t even get you one.

So, take a good look at what is happening in Georgia-even if the Obama administration and the Nuclear Regulatory Commission won’t. . . even if the Obama administration and the NRC don’t want you to. The nuclear industry, its acolytes, its lackeys, its supplicants and subordinates want to make the Vogtle reactors the first of many, the first of an irresistible nuclear renaissance, the start of a hard-charging, government-subsidized pushback-against activists and environmentalists, sure, but in reality, against the truth.

The truth, of course, is that without the lobbyists and the grease they spread, without the captured regulators and the purchased elected officials, the nuclear industry would be relegated to the past, right alongside its antiquated technology. The truth is that nuclear power is not clean, nor safe, nor too cheap to meter-it is dirty, dangerous, and a financial sinkhole of epic proportions. Banks and investment houses know it, ratepayers in Georgia and Florida know it, many of the residents of Japan know it, and even the government of Germany knows it-and now you know it, too. Now is the time to make sure your representatives in government-your president, your members of Congress, your state and local officials-know that you know it. Now is the time to stop this boondoggle and bailout, and then get to the business of safely uncoiling the nuclear serpent’s grip on our leaders and our imaginations. The AP1000 is not a first glimpse of the future, it is the last gasp of the past-and the sooner we stop subsidizing the old ideas, the sooner we can start investing in some new ones.

1 comment

  1. ek hornbeck

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