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The lessons of the Fukushima nuclear accident in 2011 seem to be the same as those from Chernobyl 25 years earlier, despite the different political settings. Apparently not much had been learned.
The two worst nuclear accidents to date — Chernobyl in the former Soviet Union (USSR) and Fukushima-Daiichi in Japan — occurred as the forces of nature combined with human error to bring about a complicated cluster of human problems that displaced much of the affected populations and left millions more trapped in contaminated areas.
On 26 April 1986, an explosion at the Chernobyl nuclear power plant in the Ukraine caused a fire that lasted for ten days and radioactive debris to spread over thousands of square kilometres. At the time of the incident, about 230,000 people in 640 settlements in the European parts of the USSR were thought to be exposed to external gamma radiation and/or internal exposure through the consumption of contaminated water and locally produced or gathered food. In the following 20 years, numerous assessments revealed an increasing number of people affected in the USSR, including people evacuated from the exclusion zone, and residents who remained trapped in radioactive ‘hot spots’.
On 11 March 2011, tsunami floods damaged four of the six power units of the Fukushima-Daiichi nuclear plant in Japan resulting in contamination of as much as 1,800 km² of land with particular ‘hot spots’.
Managing the crisis
By all accounts, the authoritarian style of governance associated with the Soviet regime and the fact that the immediate area surrounding the plant was not densely populated were beneficial in the early stages of the crisis. The relative success of an immediate response, however, was hindered somewhat by the lack of information disseminated to the public as the weeks, months and years passed.
Prior to the disaster, the USSR had policies in place for measures that should be undertaken in the event of radioactive contamination, which included instructions from medical experts on when local and central government should evacuate affected populations, depending on their level of exposure. Hours after the event, preliminary radiation readings prompted the authorities to draw a 10 km radius around the plant, from which everyone was to be evacuated within a few days. One week later, as more information was uncovered as to the scale of the disaster, a government commission established to deal with the aftermath extended the exclusion zone to 30 km.
The same day as the tsunami occurred the Japanese government instructed residents living within a 2 km radius to evacuate. As with Chernobyl, over the following weeks the zone was extended outwards to 30 km.
Around Chernobyl, roadblocks were established to prevent privately owned cars from leaving without authorisation, and buses were chartered from outside the contaminated zone. This limited the spread of contamination from inside the exclusion zone and facilitated the evacuations which started the next day, beginning with some 50,000 residents of Pripyat where power plant employees lived. Local government officials and Communist party leaders were told that people would be evacuated for only three days. The official announcement was very short, with no information about the dangers of exposure to radiation. The absence of clear instructions on evacuation led to numerous problems about belongings left behind, including personal documents. Close to 5,000 people remained in Pripyat after the evacuation. Some were left there to assist with clean-up activities, while others refused to evacuate without their farm animals, tools and equipment.
In order to reduce panic, the government increased the level of the permissible annual dose of absorbed radiation in the Ukrainian capital, Kiev, avoiding mandatory evacuation of millions. However, children between 8 and 15 years old were sent to summer camps, and pregnant women and mothers with young children and infants were sent to hotels, rest houses, sanatoria and tourist facilities, dividing many families with little consideration for the lasting social effects.
In early June 1986, ‘hot spots’ were discovered outside the 30 km zone, leading to the evacuation of a further 20,000 people. By the end of 1986, some 116,000 inhabitants from 188 settlements had been evacuated, as well as 60,000 cattle and other farm animals. Thousands of apartments were made available in urban centres, and 21,000 new buildings were constructed in rural areas to house evacuees, although people were spread throughout the USSR. The upheaval induced by the break-up of the USSR five years after the disaster cannot be underestimated, both in terms of migration implications and the impact on responding to the lingering effects of the crisis.
Following Chernobyl, the System for Prediction of Environmental Emergency Dose Information Network System (SPEEDI) computer system was designed in Japan to predict the spread of radioactive particles in order to effectively assess the situation and guide evacuations. However, most radiation dose-monitoring equipment and meteorological monitors were either damaged by the tsunami or were out of service because of the loss of power. In addition, the models did not incorporate all the variables needed to accurately calculate human external exposure and inhalation so the local authorities were reluctant to rely heavily on them in their decision-making process. There were also reports that initially the authorities did not know about SPEEDI, and later on played down the data to dismiss the severity of the accident for fear of having to significantly expand the evacuation zone, and to avoid compensation payments to still more evacuees.
In Fukushima, on 25 March approximately 62,000 residents were advised to evacuate voluntarily or to stay indoors. Orders to ‘shelter in place’ or to voluntarily evacuate were unclear and long-winded, leading some people to move into areas with high levels of radiation and eventually being evacuated multiple times. According to the Nuclear Accident Independent Investigation Commission (NAIIC), the Japanese government was slow in informing the municipal governments and the public about the accident and its severity. Many people were unaware of the crisis and did not take essential items when they were evacuated. For those being evacuated the greatest advantage was their level of connectedness to outside areas such as employment or relatives and friends outside the region. Others were at a disadvantage because their only recourse was to follow government-organised evacuation and be placed in temporary housing.
Radiation is invisible, and at first no obvious factors force people away or hinder migration into these regions. Migration back to contaminated areas of the Ukraine was reported as early as the end of 1986, only eight months later. The demographic composition of the returned population consisted mostly of the elderly who had had difficulty adapting to the new places and wanted to live out their remaining years in their homeland, and those who thought of Chernobyl-related financial benefits as their only means of survival. Poverty caused by resettlement, restrictions on agriculture, lack of rehabilitation and livelihood restoration programmes, and the effects of the collapse of the USSR, led to ever more people claiming such benefits.
Although the immediate evacuation after the Chernobyl disaster was carried out swiftly and effectively, there was no clear understanding of the far-reaching consequences, and no structured resettlement plan to deal with these consequences in the medium or long term. Determining obligations and responsibilities for offering protection to those moving is not simple, especially in the context of post-Soviet emigration where it is difficult to distinguish between migrants seeking economic opportunities and those fleeing because of health risks. The disintegration of the USSR and the difficult transition process intensified the consequences of the Chernobyl accident and the complexities around responsibilities for those affected.
Some 25 years later, the Fukushima-Daiichi nuclear accident raised questions over lessons learned and lessons yet to be learned from Chernobyl in terms of preparedness and mitigation of nuclear disasters but also in terms of normative and implementation gaps in dealing with the consequences of these crises. In the context of both crises, tens of thousands were permanently displaced from the immediate vicinities; thousands made the decision to move because of health concerns, environmental degradation and collapsed infrastructure; and millions remained in contaminated areas due to an absence of resources and/or opportunities, financial constraints and special attachment to their home.
In both the Chernobyl and Fukushima cases, strong governments responded with a heavy-handed approach that proved effective, to a certain extent, in evacuating immediate areas in the short term. Interestingly, the governments of Japan and the USSR both adopted top-down governance approaches too in how they communicated to their populations in the context of humanitarian crises triggered by nuclear disasters. However, a lack of information relayed to affected populations exacerbated long-term effects of the crisis on these populations. Indeed, one of the major, and unanticipated, consequences of these disasters has been the psychological effects that have resulted from unreliable and contradictory information, along with the anxiety induced by ill-planned medium- and long-term relocation efforts, the disruption of social ties, and lingering health concerns. An estimated 1,539 stress-related deaths occurred in the context of evacuation from Fukushima, which arguably could have been prevented by more active consultation and communication by the government with affected populations.
Nuclear Disasters and Displacement by Silva Meybatyan is licensed under a Creative Commons Attribution-NonCommercial-NoDerivatives 4.0 International License.
Based on a work at Forced Migration Review.
Why the Obama Administration Will Not Admit that Fukushima Radiation is Poisoning Americans | Global Research
Why isn’t GE being held accountable?
by Chris Carrington
We all know that the radiation from the stricken Fukushima plant has spread around the globe and is poisoning people worldwide. We all know that the West Coast of the United States is being polluted with radioactive debris and that the oceans, the beaches that border them, and even the air is becoming more polluted by radioactivity as time goes on.
You have to ask yourself why the government won’t admit this. It’s not like a disaster half a world away is their fault, is it?
Or is it? Could the United States government have done something to prevent the situation getting to this point?
Nothing in this article is a state secret, everything is in the public domain, but the information is so disseminated that it appears disconnected.
- the US government knows only too well that the West Coast is polluted with radiation and that the situation is getting worse by the day.
- the US government and General Electric knew that Fukushima was a disaster waiting to happen, and they did nothing to prevent it.
- they also know that the many nuclear reactors in the United States are also prone to catastrophic meltdown, and they are doing nothing about it.
- research by doctors and scientists is being suppressed, and research by private citizens is being written off purely because they have no scientific background.
All the warnings were ignored
The narrative that leads us to the state we are in today starts in 1972.
Stephen Hanauer, an official at the atomic Energy Commission recommended that General Electric’s Mark 1 design be discontinued as it presented unacceptable safety risks.
The New York Times reported:
In 1972, Stephen H. Hanauer, then a safety official with the Atomic Energy Commission, recommended that the Mark 1 system be discontinued because it presented unacceptable safety risks. Among the concerns cited was the smaller containment design, which was more susceptible to explosion and rupture from a buildup in hydrogen — a situation that may have unfolded at the Fukushima Daiichi plant. Later that same year, Joseph Hendrie, who would later become chairman of theNuclear Regulatory Commission, a successor agency to the atomic commission,said the idea of a ban on such systems was attractive. But the technology had been so widely accepted by the industry and regulatory officials, he said, that “reversal of this hallowed policy, particularly at this time, could well be the end of nuclear power.” (source)
Then, three years later in 1975, Dale Bridenbaugh and two colleagues were asked to review the GE Mark 1 Boiling Water Reactor (BWR). They were convinced that the reactor was inherently unsafe and so flawed in its design that it could catastrophically fail under certain circumstances. There were two main issues. First was the possible failure of the Mark 1 to deal with the huge pressures created if the unit lost cooling power. Secondly, the spent fuel ponds were situated 100 feet in the air near the top of the reactor.
They voiced their opinions, which were promptly pushed aside, and after realizing that they were not going to be allowed to make their opinions public all three resigned.
Over the years numerous other experts voiced concerns over the GE Mark 1 BWR. All have gone unheeded.
Five of the six reactors at Fukushima were GE Mark 1 BWR. The first reactor, unit one, was commissioned in 1971, prior to the first concerns about the design being raised. The other reactors came on line in 1973, 1974, 1977, 1978 and 1979 respectively. Although all six reactors were the GE Mark 1 design only three were built and supplied by GE. Units 1, 2 and 6 were supplied by GE, 3 and 5 by Toshiba and unit 4 by Hitachi. (Now Hitachi-GE)
Why isn’t GE being held accountable?
Why wouldn’t GE be held accountable? Here’s one possibility: Jeffery Immelt is the head of GE. He is also the head of the United States Economic Advisory Board. He was invited to join the board personally by President Obama in 2009 and took over as head in 2011 when Paul Volcker stepped down in February 2011, just a month before the earthquake and tsunami that devastated Fukushima.
Paul Volcker was often seen as being at odds with the administration, and many of his ideas were not embraced by the government. The appointment of Immelt, a self-described Republican, was seen as a move to give Obama a leg up when dealing with the Republican majority in the House.
There have been calls from many organizations for GE to be held accountable for the design faults in the reactors that powered the Fukushima plant. The fact that they had been known for so long does seem to indicate that the company ignored and over-ruled advice from nuclear experts.
GE ran Fukushima alongside TEPCO, but it isn’t liable for the clean-up costs.
A year after the disaster, Tepco was taken over by the Japanese government because it couldn’t afford the costs to get the damaged reactors under control. By June of 2012, Tepco had received nearly 50 billion dollars from the government.
The six reactors were designed by the U.S. company General Electric (GE). GE supplied the actual reactors for units one, two and six, while two Japanese companies Toshiba provided units three and five, and Hitachi unit four. These companies as well as other suppliers are exempted from liability or costs under Japanese law.
Many of them, including GE, Toshiba and Hitachi, are actually making money on the disaster by being involved in the decontamination and decommissioning, according to a report by Greenpeace International.
“The nuclear industry and governments have designed a nuclear liability system that protects the industry, and forces people to pick up the bill for its mistakes and disasters,” says the report, “Fukushima Fallout.”
“If nuclear power is as safe as the industry always claims, then why do they insist on liability limits and exemptions?” asked Shawn-Patrick Stensil, a nuclear analyst with Greenpeace Canada.
Nuclear plant owner/operators in many countries have liability caps on how much they would be forced to pay in case of an accident. In Canada, this liability cap is only 75 million dollars. In the United Kingdom, it is 220 million dollars. In the U.S., each reactor owner puts around 100 million dollars into a no-fault insurance pool. This pool is worth about 10 billion dollars.
“Suppliers are indemnified even if they are negligent,” Stensil told IPS. (source)
GE will not have put anything into this ‘pot’ to cover Fukushima, as it is not in the United States. They have walked away, even though they knew their reactors have design faults.
Wait! There’s more!
It’s not that simple, though; and here’s where keeping quiet and denying what’s happening comes into its own.
So far I have not explained why Obama is keeping quiet about the radiation contamination. Well, that’s the easy part.
There are 23 nuclear plants in the United States that use the GE Mark 1 BWR.23.
There are 23 nuclear plants in the United States where the used fuel rods are suspended, in a pond, 100 feet above the ground. (source)
Any admission that radiation has spread across the Pacific Ocean and contaminated American soil is an admission that the technology was flawed, and that same flawed technology is being used in the United States. The government does not want anyone looking closer at the situation. They don’t want people poking around asking questions about why the radiation got out in the first place…it’s too close to home.
Better to say that the radiation is within safe levels, and then if such a disaster happens here they can mourn those in the immediate fallout zone and maintain that the rest of the country is okay, just as it was after Fukushima.
The fact that the CEO of GE works for Obama just highlights the facts. There is no way that Immelt doesn’t know about all the warning his company was given about the design flaws of the Mark 1; and if he knows, the government knows.
Ask yourself this, why after such a monumental event are all the scientific papers regarding the disaster singing the same song?
It is impossible to have so many scientists and doctors agreeing to this level. Nothing has been published regarding the increased rates of miscarriage and childhood thyroid cancers. Why is that?
After Chernobyl there was a plethora of papers announcing to the world the increased cancer risks, the risks to pregnant women and young children. I suggest that because Chernobyl was in Russia, a place where no American technology was used, that there was no suppression of the facts.
GE cannot afford a corporate law suit, and neither can the Obama administration. It wouldn’t be pretty if a senior advisor to the president was hauled through the courts. There’s a chance it would not just be GE that went down in the wake of such a case.
The President of the United States knows that the radiation from Fukushima is worse than it would have been had the reactors used at the plant been of a different design.
Know to the US government, the delicate and hazardous task of removing and storing the spent fuel rods is going to take years, and that one mistake can exacerbate the problems ten-fold.
23 sites in America are using the same flawed reactors and the government is doing nothing about it.
The President of the United States is holding the lives of tens of millions of Americans in his hands and he refuses to even admit there is a problem. He needs to understand that the people of the West Coast are not just pawns in his political game. Moreover he should be explaining what is causing all the fish die-offs if it is unconnected to radiation.
Obama knows that millions of American citizens are being poisoned due, in part, to a failure of American technology. I recognize that the earthquake and tsunami were forces of nature, but the damage sustained could have been reduced considerably by not using the Mark 1.
I understand that these reactors were not installed on his watch, but he’s there now. He’s the one that can make the difference now. It is he who can look into the nuclear power stations on American soil in the hope of preventing a meltdown here.
Our nuclear power stations are old, past their sell by date in some cases. It’s not just the reactors that are the problem either. Hanford, right on the Columbia River in Washington state, as one example, constantly leaks radioactive liquid into the ground, and possibly the groundwater.
Something has to be done before one of our aging power stations starts Fukushima Part ll.
Chris Carrington is a writer, researcher and lecturer with a background in science, technology and environmental studies. Chris is an editor for The Daily Sheeple, where this first appeared. Wake the flock up!
Image via tim_d/flickr. Creative Commons 2.0 license.
- Big oil stagnates:
Source: Wall Street Journal
- “We can expect growing pressure points around water, food, and energy scarcity as the century progresses…Hovering over all of this is the merciless march of climate change. Because of humanity’s hubris, the natural environment, which we need to sustain us, is instead turning against us.” – IMF’s Christine Lagarde delivers her Richard Dimbleby lecture
- Nuclear setback as EC attacks Hinkley Point subsidy deal – Nuclear plant in doubt as European Commission says subsidies of up to £17.6bn risk handing EDF excess profits and may constitute illegal state aid.
One such reduction seems likely from our chart of the week, though it’s far from intentional. Oil giants Exxon, Shell and Chevron have been spending at record levels, but production continues to stagnate. Is the industry now reaching a turning point? Commentary such as this from FT blogger Nick Butler would certainly suggest so.
Ontario could avoid refurbishing aging nuclear stations and save over $1 billion annually on electricity bills if the province imported water power from Quebec, says the Ontario Clean Air Alliance, a coalition of 90 organizations that promote renewable energy.
“This one is really a no-brainer,” Jack Gibbons, chair of the alliance, told DeSmog Canada. The alliance was largely responsible for Ontario agreeing to phase out all coal-fire power plants by December 31, 2014.
Quebec is the fourth largest producer of hydroelectricity in the world (behind China, Brazil and the U.S.) and has a large hydro surplus the province usually sells to the U.S. Existing power lines between Ontario and Quebec can transport nearly as much power as Ontario’s Darlington nuclear station produces. This amounts to more than 10 per cent of Ontario’s peak demand on a hot summer’s day.
“Importing hydro from Quebec is technically feasible. The only barrier is lack of political will,” Mark Winfield, associate professor of environmental studies at York University, says.
Successive Ontario governments have insisted on the province producing all of its own electricity despite the fact it sits between two provinces with massive hydroelectric generating capacities — Quebec and Manitoba. Transmission lines from Ontario to both of these provinces have existed for decades. Ontario-based water and nuclear power provide the province with most of its electricity.
Ontario’s electricity supply mix in 2013. Source: Long Term Energy Plan 2013
“Ontario imports natural gas from outside the province, and uranium for its nuclear plants from Saskatchewan, and used to buy its coal from the American Midwest,” Winfield told DeSmog Canada.
“Why would importing electricity from Quebec be any different?” he says.
Ontario’s long-term energy plan, released last December, projects home power bills will rise 42 per cent by 2018. The plan calls for energy conservation and refurbishing old nuclear reactors to prevent rates from increasing even more.
Importing water power is mentioned in the province’s energy plan as a possibility if the price is right:
“Ontario will consider opportunities for clean imports [i.e. renewable energy such as water power] from other jurisdictions when such imports would have system benefits and are cost effective for Ontario ratepayers.”
Transmission power lines from Ontario to other provinces and states. Source: Long Term Energy Plan 2013
The Ontario Clean Air Alliance estimates the savings for Ontario will be at least $1.2 billion annually between 2020 and 2050 if the province cancels the refurbishment of Darlington’s nuclear reactors and signs a long-term power contract with Quebec instead. The cost of the refurbishment will be 8.6 cents per kilowatt-hour (kWh) according to Darlington’s operator,Ontario Power Generation. Quebec exports power at 4.1 cents/kWh on average.
The savings could be even more.
“Nuclear projects in Ontario usually run 2.5 times over budget. We are concerned that the actual cost of the Darlington re-build will be between 19-37 cents/kWh,” Gibbons told DeSmog Canada.
Ontario Power Generation, a provincially owned power company, has asked the Ontario Energy Board to approve a 30 per cent rate increase on what the company is paid for nuclear power. A big chunk of the rate increase is expected to go to extending the lives of Ontario Power Generation’s nuclear reactors at Darlington by an additional 30 years.
“As we see it, energy conservation and importing hydro from Quebec is the only way Ontario can reduce electricity bills for consumers,” Gibbons says.
Quebec stands to benefit from a power contract with Ontario as well since the U.S. export market is collapsing. The U.S. shale gas boom has dropped the price of natural gas so low that American states are burning more gas for their power than before, creating less economic incentive to buy electricity from Quebec.
Ontario could reap further economic benefits beyond being a consumer of Quebec’s cheap hydro. Winfield points out that Quebec’s electrical demand is the highest in winter when Ontario’s demand is low and wind power is at its strongest. Ontario could sell its power back to Quebec as part of the deal.
Cheaper electricity rates could provide some relief for Ontario declining manufacturing industry by reducing the cost of doing business and making manufacturers in Ontario more competitive.
“Although there would be some job loss in Ontario’s power generating sector, there would be a net-gain for the province’s economy,” Gibbons says.
Image Credit: DeborahCoyne.ca, Government of Ontario