Archive for May, 2012

Noda says reactor restart necessary once safety is assured

May 31, 2012

By Kentaro Hamada and Linda Sieg

POLITICS MAY. 31, 2012 – 01:50PM JST ( 81 )

TOKYO —

Prime Minister Yoshihiko Noda, keen to restart idled nuclear reactors to avoid a summer power crunch, said on Wednesday it was necessary to start those reactors whose safety has been confirmed, adding he was winning understanding from local authorities.

Nuclear power supplied nearly 30% of Japan’s electricity needs before last year’s earthquake and tsunami crippled the Fukushima plant – the world’s worst nuclear accident in 25 years. But all of the country’s 54 reactors have since been taken offline for checks.

The government has been struggling to win support from local authorities for the restarts, although their permission is not legally required.

Noda, talking after a meeting with key ministers to discuss resuming operations at two of Kansai Electric Power Co’s reactors in western Japan, said he would make a final decision once local authorities have made up their minds.

A group of regional governors, long concerned about whether it was safe to resume power generation at Kansai Electric’s No. 3 and No. 4 reactors in Ohi, Fukui Prefecture, signaled their agreement to the restarts as a “limited” step.

The governor of the host prefecture of Fukui and the mayor of the town of Ohi where the reactors are located have yet to give final approval, although Ohi’s local assembly has signed off on resuming operations.

“If we get a decision by local authorities, then we will discuss among the four key ministers and I will make the final decision,” Noda told reporters.

A decision by Noda and key ministers to restart the reactors would ease worries about power shortages among firms in the region, including struggling electronics giants Panasonic Corp and Sharp Corp. But the move could also irk voters and undermine Noda’s already sagging public support.

Noting the central government has yet to set up a new regulatory agency, promised after the disaster, the Union of Kansai Governments said current safety standards were therefore provisional. The Diet began debate on creating the new agency this week after months of delay.

Anti-nuclear activists have cast doubt on the government’s assurances that the two reactors at Kansai Electric Power Co’s Ohi plant in Fukui, western Japan, are safe.

“We have consistently said that none of the safety or emergency measures that have been called for by experts in the community has been completed,” said Greg McNevin, a spokesman for Greenpeace International. “Our consistent position is that this is being rushed.”

Kansai Electric has said it would take six weeks to reconnect them to the grid and the government has asked businesses and consumers in its service area to cut summer electricity useage by 15% from 2010 levels.

(c) Copyright Thomson Reuters 2012.

Green Tea Compound for Radioprotection

May 31, 2012

ISIS Report 30/05/12

Green tea polyphenol antioxidant protects against bystander effects of low dose ionizing radiation that damage cells and cause numerous diseases including cancer Dr. Mae-Wan Ho

fully referenced version of this report is posted on ISIS members website and is otherwise available for download here

Please circulate widely and repost, but you must give the URL of the original and preserve all the links back to articles on our website

The recent discovery of bystander effects from low levels of ionizing radiation has thrown risk assessment and radioprotection into disarray [1] (Bystander Effects Multiply Dose and Harm from Ionizing RadiationSiS 55). However, it has also led to the discovery of potential mitigating measures against exposure to radioactivity, especially from nuclear accidents like Chernobyl (and Fukushima), the devastation health impacts of which are still surfacing 25 years later [2] (Chernobyl Deaths Top a Million Based on Real EvidenceSiS 55).

Ionizing radiation has been known to produce free radicals and reactive oxygen species (ROS), predominantly by ionizing water, the most abundant molecules in tissues and cells (see [1] for an explanation of ROS). ROS are responsible for oxidative damage to DNA, proteins, and lipids, initiating cell death, genomic instability and other consequences of radiation, both in cells that have been directly targeted, and in bystander cells that have not been irradiated [1]. There is evidence that various antioxidants can protect cells against bystander radiation damages, and new findings published online in Mutation Research appear particularly promising.

Ashu Tiku and Benila Richi at Jawaharlal Nehru University, New Delhi and Roasaheb Kale at Central University of Gujarat in India may have found the ideal antioxidant for radioprotectopm [3].

Non-toxic compound needed for radioprotection

One main problem in radioprotection is to find compounds that are non-toxic or minimally so, and natural compounds fit the bill in being both non-toxic and easily available.  Green tea is a rich source of polyphenols with strong antioxidant activities. Green tea extracts and its polyphenols have been shown to possess many health benefits attributed to their antioxidant and anti-inflammatory properties (see [4, 5] Green Tea, The Elixir of Life? and Green Tea Against Cancers, SiS 33). Most of the health benefits of green tea have been credited to the major polyphenol EGCG (epigallocatechin-3-gallate) (Figure 1), which constitutes 55 – 70 % of total polyphenols in green tea extract. Its antioxidant potential is believed to be far greater than vitamin E and vitamin C, the two main antioxidants among vitamins [6].

Figure 1   EGCG (epigallocatechin-3-gallate) from green tea

The team exposed both pBR322 plasmid DNA as well as spleen cells from mice to g-radiation at different concentrations of EGCG. Preliminary experiments found that EGCG concentrations above 125 mM were toxic to the cells, so the highest concentration used was restricted to 100 mM. The effects of quercetin – another polyphenol found in fruits, vegetables, leaves and grains – and vitamin C were also investigated. The plasmid DNA and cells were incubated for 2 hours with EGCG at different concentrations or quercetin and vitamin C, both at 100 mM, before being irradiated. Afterwards, the plasmid and cells were assessed for DNA damage, and the cells for viability, lipid peroxidation, membrane fluidity, and for activities of enzymes and cofactors involved in detoxification and scavenging of ROS.

Tea compound protects against DNA breaks and cell death

The intact plasmid is supercoiled in a compact form, while the cut plasmid is circular, and the two forms can be clearly distinguished and quantified by electrophoresis. The control (unexposed) sample is about 85% supercoiled. EGCG was found to protect plasmid DNA against breaks at high (50 Gy) or low (3 Gy) dose radiation: >82.5 % protection even at the lowest concentration of EGCG tested (10 mM) and complete 100 % protection at 50 mM. EGCG was better at protection against DNA breaks than quercetin or vitamin C at the same concentration of 100 mM.

The viability of cells was determined with a vital dye that depends on active mitochondria.  At 3 to 7 Gy of g-irradiation, cell viability was significantly decreased, and at the highest dose, to 53 % of unexposed controls; but pre-incubation with EGCG protected the cells and restored viability in a concentration dependent manner, at 100 mM, viability was restored to >96 % of control.

Single cell comet assay was used to determine the extent of DNA degradation in the cells. In this assay, cells are trapped in agar gel on a microscope slide, lysed to expose their DNA for electrophoresis, and stained with a fluorescent dye. Cells with intact DNA will appear as a small compact bright spot, while cells with degraded DNA will appear as a diffuse spot with a tail, like a comet, hence the name of the assay.  The bigger the tail, the greater is the extent of degradation, which can be quantified with computer software under a fluorescent microscope. Exposing the cells to 3 Gy led to substantial DNA degradation, which was reduced in a concentration dependent manner by EGCG. Quercetin and vitamin C also protected the cells against DNA damage, though not as effectively as EGCG.

Protection against lipid peroxidation

Peroxidation of membrane lipids by ROS destroys membrane structure and function. The results showed that lipid peroxidation increased with radiation dose from 0 to 7 Gy; and membrane fluidity also increased but more slowly. Pre-incubation with EGCG prevented lipid peroxidation and increase in membrane fluidity in a concentration dependent manner. Quercetin and vitamin C similarly protected against peroxidation and increase in membrane fluidity, but again, less efficiently than EGCG.

Key enzyme activities for antioxidant defence restored

Glutathione-S-transferase  (GST) is a family of enzymes catalyzing the conjugation of reduced glutathione (GSH) to peroxidized lipids to detoxify them. Reduced glutathione GSH is a tripeptide antioxidant that takes part in reduction-oxidation reactions; in the process, it is oxidized into glutathione disulphide (GSSG). The ratio of reduced to oxidized glutathione is important in the cell’s antioxidant defence. Superoxide dismutase (SOD) catalyses the conversion of superoxide (a reactive oxygen species) into oxygen and hydrogen peroxide and is an important ROS scavenger in cells. Lactate dehydrogenase (LDH) catalyzes the interconversion of pyruvate and lactic acid with simultaneous interconversion of NADH and NAD (reduced and oxidized nicotinamde adenine dinucleotide), which is important in maintaining the cell’s electronic balance and antioxidant defence.

g-irradiation reduced the activities of both GST and SOD. The reduction was countered by EGCG, and also by quercetin and vitamin C. The level of LDH, an indicator of damage was increased in g-irradiated cells, while glutathione was decreased, as indicative of oxidative stress. EGCG was able to counteract those effects, and almost completely at 100 mM. Quercetin was just as effective in reducing LDH and restoring GSH levels to those of controls, but vitamin C less so.

EGCG intercalates in DNA double helix

The authors suggest that EGCG can intercalate in the DNA double helix and protect it from free radical attack. EGCG binding to both DNA and RNA was documented for the first time by researchers at the Tokushima Bunri University and the Saitama Cancer Centre in Japan [7]. They found that EGCG binds to both single-stranded DNA and RNA, as well as double-stranded DNA. Moreover, EGCG binding appears to stabilize double-stranded DNA.

Previous work has also demonstrated that due to the presence of abundant phenolic hydroxyl groups on aromatic rings (see Figure 1), EGCG is a highly efficient free radical scavenger, effectively disarming the free radicals and rendering harmless [8].

Most importantly, in the absence of g-radiation, EGCG did not have any significant effect. Thus the innocuous habit of drinking two cups of green tea a day may indeed have surprisingly beneficial effects [4, 5] that include protecting against ionizing radiation.

Toxic Japanese Debris Piles Up on Alaska’s Shore

May 30, 2012

An unprecedented surge in debris from last year's Japanese tsunami is washing up on Alaska's coastline. (photo: Alaskan Coastal Studies)
An unprecedented surge in debris from last year’s Japanese tsunami is washing up on Alaska’s coastline. (photo: Alaskan Coastal Studies)

By John Blackstone, CBS News

30 May 12

 

http://cnettv.cnet.com/av/video/cbsnews/atlantis2/cbsnews_player_embed.swf

ore than a year has passed since that devastating earthquake and tsunami hit Japan. Nearly 16,000 people were killed as entire towns were swept away. Boats, cars, and homes became islands of debris floating toward the West Coast, and some of it has started washing up on Montague Island in Alaska.

At the mouth of Prince William Sound, there are bottles and barrels, spray cans, fishing gear and worries about toxic chemicals. The Japanese writing on this fuel canister says Danger.

“We can clean this up given the resources, but it’s gonna be a four-, five-, six-year process,” said Chris Pallister, president of Gulf of Alaska Keeper, a group that tries to keep wilderness beaches free of trash.

Pallister said things like building insulation from Japan can be found along the Alaska coast, “and I mean there’s boatload after boatload after boatload of that up and down the shoreline.”

By 2013, it’s estimated as much as 1.5 million tons of wreckage from the tsunami could reach the West Coast from Alaska all the way to California.

Montague Island is a barrier on the Alaskan coast catching much of the debris that washes across the Pacific. Light material — plastics — was carried here by the wind. There’s more being carried on the currents.

“It’s like every mile or so you run across some more pieces, and as you look off into the distance you can see pieces of stuff here and there,” said fisherman Tim Cabana, who has spotted it out in the Gulf of Alaska.

If there’s any good news, it’s that the debris is not expected to be contaminated with radiation from the Japanese nuclear plant disabled by the tsunami.

“The Fukushima plant had a meltdown after the debris was already in the water. And from the experts we’ve talked to about radiation, they think that the isotopes would be weathered and be gone because of their half lives by now,” said Nancy Wallace, director of NOAA’s marine debris program.

But Pallister says unrecovered Styrofoam and plastic can remain in the environment forever. If eaten it could be deadly to fish and wildlife.

“When we flew in here today and I saw the Styrofoam, especially what was down there in that fresh tide line, it just made me want to weep — it’s just really bad,” Pallister said.

The impact here pales in comparison to the devastation in Japan, but what is now arriving on these shores doesn’t belong in a place so remote and wild. A place of such grand natural beauty people are determined to preserve it.

The Last Extinction Event

May 30, 2012
From: Andy Soos, ENN
Published May 29, 2012 09:29 AM

The Permian—Triassic extinction event, sometimes known as the Great Dying, was an extinction event that occurred 250 million years ago, forming the boundary between the Permian and Triassic geologic periods, as well as the Paleozoic and Mesozoic eras. It was the Earth’s most severe known extinction event, with up to 96% of all marine species and 70% of terrestrial vertebrate species becoming extinct. It took some 10 million years for Earth to recover from the greatest mass extinction of all time, latest research has revealed. There were apparently two reasons for the delay, the sheer intensity of the crisis, and continuing grim conditions on Earth after the first wave of extinction.

Recent evidence for a rapid extinction bounce-back is evaluated in a new review article by Dr Zhong-Qiang Chen, from the China University of Geosciences in Wuhan, and Professor Michael Benton from the University of Bristol. They find that recovery from the crisis lasted some 10 million years, as explained in Nature Geoscience.

The end-Permian crisis was possibly triggered by a number of physical environmental shocks – global warming, acid rain, ocean acidification and ocean anoxia. There are several proposed mechanisms for the extinctions; the earlier phase was likely due to gradual environmental change, while the latter phase has been argued to be due to a catastrophic event. Suggested mechanisms for the latter include large or multiple bolide impact events, increased volcanism, coal/gas fires and explosions from the Siberian Traps,and the sudden release of methane clathrate from the sea floor; gradual changes include sea-level change, anoxia, increasing aridity, and a shift in ocean circulation driven by climate change.

Dr Chen said: “It is hard to imagine how so much of life could have been killed, but there is no doubt from some of the fantastic rock sections in China and elsewhere round the world that this was the biggest crisis ever faced by life.”�

Current research shows that the grim conditions continued in bursts for some five to six million years after the initial crisis, with repeated carbon and oxygen crises, warming and other ill effects.

Some groups of animals on the sea and land did recover quickly and began to rebuild their ecosystems, but they suffered further setbacks. Life had not really recovered in these early phases because new permanent ecosystems were not established.

Professor Benton, Professor of Vertebrate Palaeontology at the University of Bristol, said: “Life seemed to be getting back to normal when another crisis hit and set it back again. The carbon crises were repeated many times, and then finally conditions became normal again after five million years or so.”�

Finally, after the environmental crises ceased to be so severe, more complex ecosystems emerged. In the sea, new groups, such as ancestral crabs and lobsters, as well as the first marine reptiles, came on the scene, and they formed the basis of future modern-style ecosystems.

Professor Benton added: “We often see mass extinctions as entirely negative but in this most devastating case, life did recover, after many millions of years, and new groups emerged. The event had re-set evolution. However, the causes of the killing – global warming, acid rain, ocean acidification – sound eerily familiar to us today. Perhaps we can learn something from these ancient events.”�

For further information see Extinction.

Microbe Ecosystem image by John Sibbick  via University of Bristol.

Meltdown at the Nuclear Regulatory Commission

May 30, 2012

Published on Monday, May 28, 2012 by Common Dreams

by Karl Grossman

The resignation last week of the chairman of the U.S. Nuclear Regulatory Commission is another demonstration of the bankrupt basis of the NRC. Gregory Jaczko repeatedly called for the NRC to apply “lessons learned” from the Fukushima Daiichi nuclear plant disaster in Japan. And, for that, the nuclear industry quite successfully went after him fiercely.

The New York Times in an editorial over the weekend said that President Obama’s choice to replace Jaczko, Allison Macfarlane, “will need to be as independent and aggressive as Dr. Jaczko.”

That misses the institutional point.

The NRC was created in 1974 when Congress abolished the U.S. Atomic Energy Commission after deciding that the AEC’s dual missions of promoting and at the same time regulating nuclear power were deemed a conflict of interest. The AEC was replaced by the NRC which was to regulate nuclear power, and a Department of Energy was later formed to advocate for it.

However, the same extreme pro-nuclear culture of the AEC continued on at the NRC. It has partnered with the DOE in promoting nuclear power.

Indeed, neither the AEC, in its more than 25 years, nor the NRC, in its nearly 30 years, ever denied an application for a construction or operating license for a nuclear power plant anywhere, anytime in the United States.

The NRC is a rubberstamp for the nuclear industry. “NRC stands for Nuclear Rubberstamp Commission,” says Kevin Kamps of the organization Beyond Nuclear.

And it isn’t that Jaczko opposed nuclear power. “Greg is not anti-nuclear, but he’s pro-nuclear in a smart and considered way,” says Christopher Paine, director of the nuclear program at the Natural Resources Defense Council.

Since the Fukushima accident began last March 11, Jaczko, who has a Ph.D. in physics, has called on the NRC to recognize and incorporate in its rules and actions, the gravity of that catastrophe. As he declared as his four fellow NRC members approved the construction of two nuclear plants in Georgia in February the first OK for new nuclear plants in the U.S. in years:

“I cannot support issuing this license as if Fukushima had never happened.”

“Greg has led a Sisyphean fight against some of the nuclear industry’s opponents of strong, lasting regulations, often serving as the lone vote,” commented Congressman Edward Markey of Massachusetts after the Jaczko resignation.

The nuclear industry and promoters of nuclear power in government would have us believe that Fukushima means nothing. As the American Nuclear Society asserts on its website: “No public ill effects are expected from the Fukushima incident.”

In reality, the consequences in Japan and all over the world are expected to be enormous. They’ll be worse than the impacts of the Chernobyl disaster, says Dr. Alexey Yablokov, a biologist and lead scientist of the book published by the New York Academy of Science in 2009, Chernobyl: Consequences of the Catastrophe for the People and the Environment. Itreported that now available medical data shows that that 985,000 people died worldwide between 1986, the year of the Chernobyl accident, and 2004 from the radioactivity released.

“The Fukushima disaster will be worse than Chernobyl,” agrees Dr. Janette Sherman, a toxicologist and the book’s editor. That’s because Fukushima involves, she notes, not one but six nuclear plants along with spent fuel pools, in a “far more populated” area than the Chernobyl plant, and the radioactive discharges from Fukushima have continued for months.

Importantly, a new report by a noted European science institute has determined that Chernobyl and Fukushima were not isolated occurrences. “Severe Nuclear Reactor Accidents Likely Every 10 to 20 Years,” was the headline of the article last week on the report in Science Daily.

“Catastrophic nuclear accidents such as the core meltdowns in Chernobyl and Fukushima are more likely to happen than previously assumed,” said Science Daily, about the report by scientists at the Max Planck Institute for Chemistry in Mainz, Germany. Based on “the number of nuclear meltdowns that have occurred,” they “calculated that such events may occur once every 10 to 20 years.”

And impacts would be global like Chernobyl and Fukushima. Their computer analyses, said Science Daily, found for the leading radioactive poison discharged in a nuclear plant accident, Cesium-137, some 8% can be expected to fall within 50 kilometers of the accident site, 50% beyond 1,000 kilometers and 25% beyond 2,000 kilometers. “These results underscore that reactor accidents are likely to cause radioactive contamination well beyond national borders,” said Science Daily.

Science Daily, like Jaczko, can’t be decried as “anti-nuclear.”

But for the nuclear industry and nuclear promoters within government, including the NRC, denial is the watchword.

At the NRC in recent months a move has begun to negate what has been its benchmark analysis on the impacts of nuclear plant accidents. “Calculation Reactor Accident Consequences 2,” referred to as the CRAC-2 report. Issued in 1982, it projects the impacts from a meltdown with a breach of containment at every nuclear plant in the U.S.

It divides the consequences into “Peak Early Fatalities,” “Peak Early Injuries,” “Peak Cancer Deaths” and “Scaled Costs” for property damage and the numbers are chilling. For the Indian Point 3 nuclear plant 28 miles north of New York City, for instance, it projects “Peak Early Fatalities” at 50,000, “Peak Early Injuries” at 167,000, “Peak Cancer Deaths” at 14,000 and “Scaled Costs” at $314 billion (in 1980 dollars).

The NRC in January issued a report it seeks to have replace CRAC-2, “State-of-the-Art Reactor Consequences Analyses” or SOARCA. SOARCA finds, according to the NRC, that the “risks of public health consequences from severe accidents” at a nuclear plant “are very small.” The “long-term risk” of a person dying from cancer from a nuclear plant accident is less than one-in-a billion. This is because “successful implementation of existing mitigation measures can prevent reactor core damage or delay or reduce offsite releases of radioactive material.”

Tell that to the people impacted by Chernobyl and Fukushima.

Meanwhile, the NRC has been busy extending the operating licenses of existing plants although nuclear plants were never seen as running for more than 40 years because of radioactivity embrittling the metal parts and otherwise causing problems affecting safety. Nevertheless, the NRC has now extended the licenses of 73 of the 104 nuclear plants in the U.S. to 60 years. And next Thursday, June 7, at its headquarters, the NRC is holding a meeting with DOE and the industry’s Electric Power Research Institute on extending licenses to 80 years. Consider the reliability of an 80-year old car.

A “Petition for Rulemaking to Improve Emergency Planning Regulations” was brought to the NRC in February by the Nuclear Information and Resource Service and 37 safe-energy and environmental groups. It declared that “the real-world experience of the Chernobyl and Fukushima disasters…were more severe and affected a much larger geographical area than provided for in NRC regulations” and asked, among other things, for the NRC to expand its current 10-mile evacuation planning zone around nuclear plants. “Waiting to see how bad an emergency gets before expanding evacuation…is not a plan of action, it is a recipe for disaster and an abdication of responsibility.” The likely NRC response? No.

On that issue, the nuclear industry was extremely upset that Jaczko, after the Fukushima accident began, advised U.S. citizens within 50 miles of the exploding nuclear complex to evacuate. It sought to continue the myth that 10 miles were fine.

As for the proposed new chair of the NRC, Allison Macfarlane, if she seeks to push safety, as the New York Times thinks she can, she would be crucified just like Jaczko.

The solution? Abolish the Nuclear Rubberstamp Commission and shut down every nuclear power plant in the U.S. They provide just 20% of our electricity and this could be substituted for with electricity generated by safe, clean, renewable energy sources such as solar and wind without the loss of lives.

Karl Grossman

Karl Grossman has been a professor of journalism at the State University of New York/College at Old Westbury for 32 years. He is a specialist in investigative reporting. He is the author of Cover Up: What You Are Not Supposed to Know About Nuclear Power. He is the host of the nationally aired TV program, Enviro Close-Up.

Fukushima Radiation Found in Tuna Off California

May 30, 2012

Published on Tuesday, May 29, 2012 by Common Dreams

- Common Dreams staff

Detectable amounts of cesium-137 and cesium-134 were found in bluefin tuna caught off the coast of California about four months after the Fukushima nuclear disaster in Japan, US scientists reported on Monday.

The timing is important because it shows that migrating fish carried radiation much further and faster than either wind or ocean currents. In addition, of course, the bluefin are a highly prized edible fishfound in sushi restaurants all over the world.

Without making a definitive judgment on the safety of the fish, lead author Daniel Madigan of Stanford University’s Hopkins Marine Station told Reuters that the amount of radioactive material detected was far less than the Japanese safety limit.

“I wouldn’t tell anyone what’s safe to eat or what’s not safe to eat,” she said. “It’s become clear that some people feel that any amount of radioactivity, in their minds, is bad and they’d like to avoid it.”

*  *  *

Reuters reports:

There was about five times the background amount of cesium 137 in the bluefin tuna they tested, but that is still a tiny quantity, Madigan said: 5 becquerels instead of 1 becquerel. (It takes 37 billion becquerels to equal 1 curie; for context, a pound of uranium-238 has 0.00015 curies of radioactivity, so one becquerel would be a truly miniscule proportion.)

The researchers figured that the elevated levels of cesium 137 and all of the cesium 134 they detected came from Fukushima because of the way bluefin tuna migrate across the Pacific.

Bluefin tuna spawn only in the western Pacific, off the coasts of Japan and the Philippines. As young fish, some migrate east to the California coast, where upwelling ocean water brings lots of food for them and their prey. They get to these waters as juveniles or adolescents, and remain there, fattening up.

Judging by the size of the bluefin tuna they sampled – they averaged about 15 pounds (6 kg) – the researchers knew these were young fish that had left Japanese water about a month after the accident.

Most of the radiation was released over a few days in April 2011, and unlike some other compounds, radioactive cesium does not quickly sink to the sea bottom but remains dispersed in the water column, from the surface to the ocean floor.

Fish can swim right through it, ingesting it through their gills, by taking in seawater or by eating organisms that have already taken it in, Madigan said.

*  *  *

The Guardian adds:

The results “are unequivocal. Fukushima was the source”, said Ken Buesseler of the Woods Hole Oceanographic Institution, who played no part in the research.

Japan’s chief cabinet secretary, Osamu Fujimura, conceded that the findings suggested the monitoring of radiation levels in fish outside Japanese waters may have to be stepped up. [...]

“We were frankly kind of startled,” said Nicholas Fisher, an expert at Stony Brook University in New York who took part in the study. “That’s a big ocean. To swim across it and still retain these radionuclides is pretty amazing.”

The operator of the Fukushima Daiichi plant, Tokyo Electric Power, estimates that 18,000 terabecquerels of radioactive materials flowed into the Pacific after the accident, either in the form of fallout, or through mixing with water that leaked from the facility. A terabecquerel is equal to 1tn becquerels.

Spent Nuclear Fuel Drives Growing Fear Over Plant in Japan

May 29, 2012

Reporters and Tepco workers at Reactor No. 4 at Fukushima Daiichi. (photo: Tomohiro Ohsumi/Bloomberg News)
Reporters and Tepco workers at Reactor No. 4 at Fukushima Daiichi. (photo: Tomohiro Ohsumi/Bloomberg News)

 

By Hiroko Tabuchi, Matthew L. Wald, The New York Times

28 May 12

 

hat passes for normal at the Fukushima Daiichi plant today would have caused shudders among even the most sanguine of experts before an earthquake and tsunami set off the world’s second most serious nuclear crisis after Chernobyl.

Fourteen months after the accident, a pool brimming with used fuel rods and filled with vast quantities of radioactive cesium still sits on the top floor of a heavily damaged reactor building, covered only with plastic.

The public’s fears about the pool have grown in recent months as some scientists have warned that it has the most potential for setting off a new catastrophe, now that the three nuclear reactors that suffered meltdowns are in a more stable state, and as frequent quakes continue to rattle the region.

The worries picked up new traction in recent days after the operator of the plant, Tokyo Electric Power Company, or Tepco, said it had found a slight bulge in one of the walls of the reactor building, stoking fears over the building’s safety.

To try to quell such worries, the government sent the environment and nuclear minister to the plant on Saturday, where he climbed a makeshift staircase in protective garb to look at the structure supporting the pool, which he said appeared sound. The minister, Goshi Hosono, added that although the government accepted Tepco’s assurances that reinforcement work had shored up the building, it ordered the company to conduct further studies because of the bulge.

Some outside experts have also worked to allay fears, saying that the fuel in the pool is now so old that it cannot generate enough heat to start the kind of accident that would allow radioactive material to escape.

But many Japanese scoff at those assurances and point out that even if the building is strong enough, which they question, the jury-rigged cooling system for the pool has already malfunctioned several times, including a 24-hour failure in April. Had the outages continued, they would have left the rods at risk of dangerous overheating. Government critics are especially concerned, since Tepco has said the soonest it could begin emptying the pool is late 2013, dashing hopes for earlier action.

“The No. 4 reactor is visibly damaged and in a fragile state, down to the floor that holds the spent fuel pool,” said Hiroaki Koide, an assistant professor at Kyoto University’s Research Reactor Institute and one of the experts raising concerns. “Any radioactive release could be huge and go directly into the environment.”

Senator Ron Wyden, Democrat of Oregon, expressed similar concerns during a trip toJapan last month.

The fears over the pool at Reactor No. 4 are helping to undermine assurances by Tepco and the Japanese government that the Fukushima plant has been stabilized, and are highlighting how complicated the cleanup of the site, expected to take decades, will be. The concerns are also raising questions about whether Japan’s all-out effort to convince its citizens that nuclear power is safe kept the authorities from exploring other – and some say safer – options for storing used fuel rods.

“It was taboo to raise questions about the spent fuel that was piling up,” said Hideo Kimura, who worked as a nuclear fuel engineer at the Fukushima Daiichi plant in the 1990s. “But it was clear that there was nowhere for the spent fuel to go.”

The worst-case situations for Reactor No. 4 would be for the pool to run dry if there is another problem with the cooling system and the rods catch fire, releasing enormous amounts of radioactive material, or for fission to restart if the metal panels that separate the rods are knocked over in a quake. That would be especially bad because the pool, unlike reactors, lacks containment vessels to hold in radioactive materials. (Even the roof that used to exist would be no match if the rods caught fire, for instance.)

There is considerable disagreement among scientists over whether such catastrophes are possible. But some argue that whether the chances are small or large, changes should be made quickly because of the magnitude of the potential calamity.

Senator Wyden, whose state could lie in the path of any new radioactive plumes and who has studied nuclear waste issues, is among those pushing for faster action. After his recent visit to the ravaged plant, he said the pool at No. 4 poses “an extraordinary and continuing risk” and the retrieval of spent fuel “should be a priority, given the possibility of further earthquakes.”

Attention has focused on No. 4′s spent fuel pool because of the large number of assemblies filled with rods that are stored at that reactor building. Three other reactor buildings at the site are also badly damaged, but their pools hold fewer used assemblies.

According to Tepco, the pool at the No. 4 reactor, which was not operating at the time of the accident, holds 1,331 spent fuel assemblies, which each contain dozens of rods. Several thousand rods were removed from the core just three months before so the vessel could be inspected. Those rods, which were not fully used up, could more easily support chain reactions than the fully spent fuel.

While Mr. Koide and others warn that Tepco must move more quickly to transfer the fuel rods to a safer location, such transfers have been greatly complicated by the nuclear accident. Ordinarily the rods are lifted by giant cranes, but at Fukushima those cranes collapsed during the series of disasters that started with the earthquake and included explosions that destroyed portions of several reactor buildings.

Tepco has said it will need to build a separate structure next to Reactor No. 4 to support a new crane.

The presence of so many spent fuel rods at Fukushima Daiichi highlights a quandary facing the global nuclear industry: how to safely store – and eventually recycle or dispose of – spent nuclear fuel, which stays radioactive for tens of thousands of years.

In the 1960s and 1970s, recycling for reuse in plants seemed the most promising option to countries with civilian nuclear power programs. And as Japan expanded its collection of nuclear reactors, local communities were told not to worry about the spent fuel, which would be recycled.

The idea of recycling fell out of favor in some countries, including the United States, which dropped the idea because it is a potential path to nuclear weapons. Japan stuck to its nuclear fuel cycle goal, however, despite leaks and delays at a vast reprocessing plant in the north, leading utilities to store a growing stockpile of spent fuel.

As early as the 1980s, researchers, including those at the United States Nuclear Regulatory Commission, started warning of the risks of storing growing amounts of nuclear fuel in pools. The United States has since concluded that densely packed pools are safe enough, but Tepco says that it never even specifically studied the risks posed by the pools.

“Japan did not want to admit that the nuclear fuel cycle might be a failed policy, and did not think seriously about a safer, more permanent way to store spent fuel,” said Tadahiro Katsuta, an associate professor of nuclear science at Tokyo’s Meiji University.

The capacity problem was particularly pronounced at Fukushima Daiichi, which is among Japan’s oldest plants and where the oldest fuel assemblies have been stored in pools since 1973.

Eventually, the plant built an extra fuel rod pool, despite suspicions among residents that increasing capacity at the plant would mean the rods would be stored at the site far longer than promised. (They were right.)

Tepco also wanted to transfer some of the rods to sealed casks, but the community was convinced that it was a stalling tactic, and the company loaded only a limited number of casks there.

The casks, as it turns out, were the better choice. They survived the disaster unscathed.

Kansai Electric urges Noda to OK restart of Oi reactors

May 29, 2012

POLITICS MAY. 29, 2012 – 10:40AM JST ( 28 )

Kansai Electric urges Noda to OK restart of Oi reactors
Nuclear reactor buildings in Okuma Town, Fukushima PrefectureAFP

TOKYO —

The head of utility Kansai Electric Power Co on Monday urged Prime Minister Yoshihiko Noda to quickly give the OK to restart two nuclear reactors at its Oi plant to avoid summer power shortages.

“The final decision rests with the government or the prime minister,” Makoto Yagi told reporters, complaining of political delays.

“I ask that the prime minister make a bold decision quickly,” he said, according to comments reported by local media.

Noda, meanwhile, told a group of reporters that “the time for the decision is close,” which he had already said two weeks earlier.

All of Japan’s 54 nuclear reactors have been switched off, either because of earthquakes or for regular maintenance and none can be reactivated without passing tests of their ability to withstand natural disasters and without the consent of the local authorities and the government.

Town councillors in Oi, in the central prefecture of Fukui, on May 14 approved restarting reactor units No. 3 and 4 at the plant operated by Kansai Electric but it is up to Noda to give the final green light.

The policy decision is difficult as last year’s tsunami-sparked meltdown at the Fukushima Daiichi plant has generated anti-nuclear sentiment among a wary public.

Kansai Electric, which relied on nuclear plants for half of its electricity output before the disaster, warned that its current capacity is likely to be 15% below demand this summer.

The government has appealed for companies and individuals to cut their power use but the company said this was not likely to be enough in very hot weather because of the heavy use of air conditioners.

Japan’s other power firms, including Tokyo Electric Power (TEPCO), which operates the Fukushima plant, have also lost the use of their reactors and face some difficulty in meeting peak demand between July and September.

© 2012 AFP

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Comment: Collusion of industry and government is against 80% of Japanese people who are against nuclear power/disaster.

Kan says pro-nuclear mentality to blame for Fukushima disaster

May 29, 2012

POLITICS MAY. 29, 2012 – 06:00AM JST ( 35 )

TOKYO —

The grip of the nuclear lobby in Japan before the Fukushima disaster was akin to that of the military in the run-up to World War II, the prime minister at the time of last year’s catastrophe said Monday.

At a parliamentary inquiry into the world’s worst atomic crisis in 25 years, Naoto Kan said the lion’s share of the blame for the tsunami-triggered disaster lay with the state for its unquestioning promotion of nuclear power.

“The nuclear accident was caused by a nuclear plant which operated as national policy,” Kan said.

“I believe the biggest portion of blame lies with the state,” said the former premier, who has come out strongly against the technology since the Fukushima disaster in March last year.

But, he said, the “nuclear village”—a term critics often use to refer to the pro-atomic lobby of academics and power companies—had blinded the government in a way analogous to the rise of the powerful military elite that led Japan into the vicious colonialism that precipitated World War II.

“Before the war, the military came to have a grip on actual political power… Similarly, plant operator TEPCO and FEPC (Federation of Electric Power Companies of Japan) held sway over the nation’s nuclear administration over the past 40 years,” Kan said.

“They ousted experts, politicians and bureaucrats critical of nuclear energy from the mainstream. Many others they sidelined so that they could maintain the status quo.”

Kan, who stepped down in September after just 15 months in charge, said the only way to ensure that a disaster like Fukushima did not happen again was for Japan to abandon nuclear technology.

Kan’s appearance, like that of many former ministers called to give evidence before the panel, was an opportunity for the ex-premier to give a detailed public account of his actions in the days and weeks after the tsunami struck.

Kan came in for intense criticism for creating a distraction when he visited the Fukushima Daiichi nuclear plant the day after the waves hit, as emergency workers were grappling with what would become full-blown meltdowns.

His administration was also lambasted for providing too little information to the public, apparently withholding computer models that showed how radiation from the venting reactors might spread.

Tens of thousands of people were later evacuated from an area around the plant after it began spewing radiation. Many have still not been allowed home, with some areas expected to be uninhabitable for decades.

TEPCO, one of the world’s largest utilities, whose tentacles of influence reach well inside Japan’s huge government bureaucracy, has also been criticised for ignoring warnings about the potential dangers from quake-generated tsunamis.

At the hearing Monday, Kan attacked the company for its failure to keep the government informed about the accident.

“I was thinking it was a battle against an invisible enemy,” he told the hearing.

Kan’s public testimony came after a private panel probing the accident said in February the former premier’s aggressive involvement had averted a worse crisis.

That panel said it was Kan who ordered TEPCO, which refused to co-operate with the February study, to keep men on site.

Experts concluded that if the premier had not stuck to his guns, Fukushima would have spiralled further out of control, with catastrophic consequences.

Kan’s then-top government spokesman, Yukio Edano, testified on Sunday.

Asked about Kan’s visit to the Fukushima plant, Edano said the prime minister had gone to the site because the industry watchdog Nuclear and Industrial Safety Agency and TEPCO had seemingly “backtracked and wavered.”

“We had this awareness that someone who is more important than a vice industry minister (who was already at the scene) should go and take hold of the situation,” Edano said.

© 2012 AFP

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Comment: The disaster was not “tsunami-hit,” but “earthquake-hit,” as kisenon which comes out immediately after nuclear explosion was detected earlier the time the plant was hit by tsunami.

Memorial Day Thoughts on National Defense

May 28, 2012
 ROBERT REICH
 NationofChange/op-ed
Published: Sunday 27 May 2012
“The United States spends more on our military than do China, Russia, Britain, France, Japan, and Germany put together.”

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We can best honor those who have given their lives for this nation in combat by making sure our military might is proportional to what America needs.

The United States spends more on our military than do China, Russia, Britain, France, Japan, and Germany put together.

With the withdrawal of troops from Afghanistan, the cost of fighting wars is projected to drop – but the “base” defense budget (the annual cost of paying troops and buying planes, ships, and tanks – not including the costs of actually fighting wars) is scheduled to rise. The base budget is already about 25 percent higher than it was a decade ago, adjusted for inflation.

One big reason: It’s almost impossible to terminate large defense contracts. Defense contractors have cultivated sponsors on Capitol Hill and located their plants and facilities in politically important congressional districts. Lockheed Martin, Raytheon, and others have made spending on national defense into America’s biggest jobs program.

 

So we keep spending billions on Cold War weapons systems like nuclear attack submarines, aircraft carriers, and manned combat fighters that pump up the bottom lines of defense contractors but have nothing to do with 21st-century combat. 

For example, the Pentagon says it wants to buy fewer F-35 joint strike fighter planes than had been planned – the single-engine fighter has been plagued by cost overruns and technical glitches – but the contractors and their friends on Capitol Hill promise a fight.

 

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The absence of a budget deal on Capitol Hill is supposed to trigger an automatic across-the-board ten-year cut in the defense budget of nearly $500 billion, starting January. 

But Republicans have vowed to restore the cuts. The House Republican budget cuts everything else — yet brings defense spending back up. Mitt Romney’s proposed budget does the same.

Yet even if the scheduled cuts occur, the Pentagon is still projected to spend over $2.7 trillion over the next ten years.

At the very least, hundreds of billions could be saved without jeopardizing the nation’s security by ending weapons systems designed for an age of conventional warfare. We should shrink the F-35 fleet of stealth fighters. Cut the number of deployed strategic nuclear weapons, ballistic missile submarines, and intercontinental ballistic missiles. And take a cleaver to the Navy and Air Force budgets. (Most of the action is with the Army, Marines, and Special Forces.)

At a time when Medicare, Medicaid, and non-defense discretionary spending (including most programs for the poor, as well as infrastructure and basic R&D) are in serious jeopardy, Obama and the Democrats should be calling for even more defense cuts.

A reasonable and rational defense budget would be a fitting memorial to those who have given their lives so we may remain free.

This article was originally posted on Robert Reich’s blog.

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ABOUT ROBERT REICH

 

ROBERT B. REICH, one of the nation’s leading experts on work and the economy, is Chancellor’s Professor of Public Policy at the Goldman School of Public Policy at the University of California at Berkeley. He has served in three national administrations, most recently as secretary of labor under President Bill Clinton. Time Magazine has named him one of the ten most effective cabinet secretaries of the last century. He has written thirteen books, including his latest best-seller, “Aftershock: The Next Economy and America’s Future;” “The Work of Nations,” which has been translated into 22 languages; and his newest, an e-book, “Beyond Outrage.” His syndicated columns, television appearances, and public radio commentaries reach millions of people each week. He is also a founding editor of the American Prospect magazine, and Chairman of the citizen’s group Common Cause. His widely-read blog can be found at www.robertreich.org.


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