Apr 11 2013

Fukushima: A Month Of Disasters

So what’s happened at Fukushima in the month since the 2 year anniversary?

Well, the cooling system has broken down at least once-

Fukushima Blackout Hints at Plant’s Vulnerability

By MARTIN FACKLER, The New York Times

Published: March 19, 2013

This week’s partial blackout, which started Monday, halted crucial cooling systems for as long as about 30 hours at four pools where used fuel rods are stored.

The four pools affected by the latest blackout contain more than 8,800 highly radioactive fuel rods, Tepco said, enough to cause a release much larger than the original accident, which forced the evacuation of some 160,000 residents in northeastern Japan.

With the company as the only source of information, it was impossible this week to independently assess the conditions at the plant, which sits in a contaminated zone that is closed to the public. On Tuesday, the company was criticized for waiting three hours before revealing the power failure to the public.

Tepco said a faulty switchboard might have been to blame in the latest power failure. Though the company has backup generators at the site, it appeared to have been unprepared for a switchboard failure.

There was a conference-

Fukushima Two Years Later: Many Questions, One Clear Answer

By: Gregg Levine, Firedog Lake

Monday April 8, 2013 7:30 am

A distinguished list of epidemiologists, oncologists, nuclear engineers, former government officials, Fukushima survivors, anti-nuclear activists and public health advocates gathered at the invitation of The Helen Caldicott Foundation and Physicians for Social Responsibility to, if not answer all these question, at least make sure they got asked. Over two long days, it was clear there is much still to be learned, but it was equally clear that we already know that the downsides of nuclear power are real, and what’s more, the risks are unnecessary. Relying on this dirty, dangerous and expensive technology is not mandatory-it’s a choice. And when cleaner, safer, and more affordable options are available, the one answer we already have is that nuclear is a choice we should stop making and a risk we should stop taking.

The boiling water reactors (BWRs) that failed so catastrophically at Fukushima Daiichi were designed and sold by General Electric in the 1960s; the general contractor on the project was Ebasco, a US engineering company that, back then, was still tied to GE. General Electric had bet heavily on nuclear and worked hand-in-hand with the US Atomic Energy Commission (AEC-the precursor to the NRC, the Nuclear Regulatory Commission) to promote civilian nuclear plants at home and abroad. According to nuclear engineer Arnie Gundersen, GE told US regulators in 1965 that without quick approval of multiple BWR projects, the giant energy conglomerate would go out of business.

It was under the guidance of GE and Ebasco that the rocky bluffs where Daiichi would be built were actually trimmed by 10 meters to bring the power plant closer to the sea, the water source for the reactors’ cooling systems-but it was under Japanese government supervision that serious and repeated warnings about the environmental and technological threats to Fukushima were ignored for another generation.

Failures at Daiichi were completely predictable, observed David Lochbaum, the director of the Nuclear Safety Project at the Union of Concerned Scientists, and numerous upgrades were recommended over the years by scientists and engineers. “The only surprising thing about Fukushima,” said Lochbaum, “is that no steps were taken.”

The surprise, it seems, should cross the Pacific. Twenty-two US plants mirror the design of Fukushima Daiichi, and many stand where they could be subject to earthquakes or tsunamis. Even without those seismic events, some US plants are still at risk of Fukushima-like catastrophic flooding. Prior to the start of the current Japanese crisis, the Nuclear Regulatory Commission learned that the Oconee Nuclear Plant in Seneca, South Carolina, was at risk of a major flood from a dam failure upstream. In the event of a dam breach-an event the NRC deems more likely than the odds that were given for the 2011 tsunami-the flood at Oconee would trigger failures at all four reactors. Beyond hiding its own report, the NRC has taken no action-not before Fukushima, not since.

If nuclear reactors were the only way to generate electricity, would 500 excess cancer deaths be acceptable? How about 5,000? How about 50,000? If nuclear’s projected mortality rate comes in under coal’s, does that make the deaths-or the high energy bills, for that matter-more palatable?

Well?  Are they?

Nuclear Industry Withers in U.S. as Wind Pummels Prices

By Julie Johnsson & Naureen S. Malik, Bloomberg News

Mar 11, 2013 4:13 PM ET

“Right now, natural gas and wind power are more economic than nuclear power in the Midwestern electricity market,” Howard Learner, executive director of the Environmental Law and Policy Center, a Chicago-based advocate of cleaner energy, said in a phone interview. “It’s a matter of economic competitiveness.”

Meanwhile, nuclear and coal plants must continue running even as this “negative pricing” dynamic forces them to pay grid operators to take the power they produce.

“We can’t find enough demand for the amount of energy created by Mother Nature,” said Doug Johnson, spokesman for the Bonneville Power Administration, which manages the grid in the Pacific Northwest. The transmission operator, based in Portland, Oregon, paid wind operators $2.7 million last year to stay off line so it could make room for the power from hydroelectric generators handling the runoff from melting mountain snows.

Now just this week we find out that the switchboard blackout was caused by a rat chewing through power lines and TEPCO’s ‘high tech’ response is to install anti-rat netting across all the holes they can.

I’ll bet those of you who’ve had rat problems can predict just how well that will work in an environment with thousands of shrapnel holes from the blasts and where even robots can’t work because the radiation fries their electronics.

Oh, and 3 of the 7 big radioactive water containment pools have been leaking.

Mishaps Underscore Weaknesses of Japanese Nuclear Plant

By HIROKO TABUCHI, The New York Times

Published: April 10, 2013

The biggest scare at the plant in recent days has been the discovery that at least three of seven underground storage pools are seeping thousands of gallons of radioactive water into the soil. On Wednesday, Tepco acknowledged that the lack of adequate storage space for contaminated water had become a “crisis,” and said it would begin emptying the pools. But the company said that the leaks will continue over the several weeks that it will likely take to transfer the water to other containers.

Tepco stores more than a quarter-million tons of radioactive water at the site and says the amount could double within three years.

But as outside experts have discovered with horror, the company had lined the pits for the underground pools with only two layers of plastic each 1.5 millimeters thick, and a third, clay-based layer just 6.5 millimeters thick. And because the pools require many sheets hemmed together, leaks could be springing at the seams, Tepco has said.

But Muneo Morokuzu, a nuclear safety expert at the Tokyo University Graduate School of Public Policy, said that the plant required a more permanent solution that would reduce the flood of contaminated water into the plant in the first place, and that Tepco was simply unable to manage the situation. “It’s become obvious that Tepco is not at all capable of leading the cleanup,” he said. “It just doesn’t have the expertise, and because Fukushima Daiichi is never going to generate electricity again, every yen it spends on the decommissioning is thrown away.”

1 comment

  1. ek hornbeck

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