PRESSWATCH: Nuke disaster worsens
Al Jazeera reported this morning that the Japanese Prime Minister had been heard shouting at the head of TEPCO, the nuclear power corporation in Japan, ""What the hell is going on?!" And surely the world echoes with his question. I have been monitoring the nuclear disaster in Japan with great interest since the first explosion, and when I read that day that cesium-137 had been detected, I immediately wrote letters, which were of course ignored, to both Oregon Senators, asking for distribution of potassium iodine pills. My reasoning is that, since cesium is a daughter-product of fissioning uranium, its presence indicated at that moment that the reactor containment was breached and that meltdown was likely; and though I did not say so in the letters, I also knew from long familiarity with the industry that any proper precautions were likely to be delayed by nuclear mendacity.
The nuclear industry lies. Lies are their primary product. After studying the Three Mile Island accident in 1979, which the Nuclear Regulatory Commission's 1974 report had said was virtually impossible to occur, I became convinced of that fact, and I rode hundreds of miles on a Motobecane bicycle in 1980, to protest the then-new South Texas Nuclear Project. It was being built by Brown and Root, which you will recall later became a subsidiary of Halliburton. The nuke was built, the young angry hippie was ignored of course, and things are otherwise much the same. I wore out that bicycle, though, and have another one now. It's Chinese. The French one was better.
Once upon a time there was a big war of imperial competition, a war of racists. The Master Race attacked Europe, and another master race attacked China and Mongolia and Jim Crow. Jim Crow had more resources and won the war, proving that he was more moral than the Germans and better than the Japanese, whom he occupied. So he got to be King Master Race, and got rich.
But some of the engineers and scientists for Jim Crow had a crisis of conscience. In their eagerness and rage to win the war, they had developed weapons of mass destruction, and used them with great cruelty. One was the fire-storm bombing technique, which was used to roast the populations of Dresden and Tokyo by the hundreds of thousands, and the other was the atomic bomb, which was deployed to impress the Russians, so that only the US would be allowed to occupy Japan. This latter weapon not only burned people to death in bizarre ways, for example by melting the face, but also poisoned the area it was used in. Upon occupation of Japan it became obvious that the victims had been people after all. So the bomb scientists, who felt a little like children who had been caught burning ants to death with magnifying glasses, hit on the idea of producing electric power with atomic radiation, as a sort of sop to the world after an exposition of their horrors. Quoting Wikipedia,
As a member of the Board of Consultants to a committee appointed by President Harry S. Truman, [US atomic bomb scientist J. Robert] Oppenheimer strongly influenced the Acheson–Lilienthal Report. In this report, the committee advocated creation of an international Atomic Development Authority, which would own all fissionable material and the means of its production, such as mines and laboratories, and atomic power plants where it could be used for peaceful energy production.
Handily, one Admiral Rickover, nicknamed by his men "that son of a bitch," had developed a steam-powered reactor using radiation heat to power submarines and navy ships. This design was modified by General Electric and Westinghouse to create the nuclear power stations that loom over us today, and by the power of imperial occupation capitalism, within a generation, such power plants were being built even in the principal victim state of poison power. Japan itself. Like all paradigms based on a lie, it was full of secrets and hierarchy and military threats, and has been a great and profitable success. But it was to be a great boon, commensurate with its great horror. Quoting Lewis Strauss, who was actually referring to fusion but whose words were used to promote fission reactors worldwide in the fifties:
"Our children will enjoy in their homes electrical energy too cheap to meter... It is not too much to expect that our children will know of great periodic regional famines in the world only as matters of history, will travel effortlessly over the seas and under them and through the air with a minimum of danger and at great speeds, and will experience a lifespan far longer than ours, as disease yields and man comes to understand what causes him to age."
Won't that be nice. Sorry about Nagasaki and Hiroshima, but it's all for the better, right? Incidentally, Strauss denounced Oppenheimer as a commie sympathizer in the McCarthy hearings. Such a guy.
Johnathan Schell, writing in The Nation:
....The chain of events at the reactors now running out of control provides a case history of the underlying mismatch between human nature and the force we imagine we can control. Nuclear power is a complex, high technology. But the things that endemically malfunction are of a humble kind. The art of nuclear power is to boil water with the incredible heat generated by a nuclear chain reaction. But such temperatures necessitate continuous cooling. Cooling requires pumps. Pumps require conventional power. These are the things that habitually go wrong—and have gone wrong in Japan. A backup generator shuts down. A battery runs out. The pump grinds to a halt. You might suppose that it is easy to pump water into a big container, and that is usually true, but the best-laid plans go awry from time to time. Sometimes the problem is a tsunami, and sometimes it is an operator asleep at the switch. These predictable and unpredictable failings affect every stage of the operation. For instance, in Japan, the nuclear power industry has a record of garden-variety cover-ups, ducking safety regulations, hiding safety violations and other problems. But which large bureaucratic organization does not? And if these happen in Japan, as orderly and efficient a country as exists on earth, in which country will they not? When the bureaucracy is the parking violations bureau or the sanitation department, ordinary mistakes lead to ordinary mishaps. But when the basic power of the universe is involved, they court catastrophe. ....
Greg Palast, writing in Truthout, after explaining that it used to be his profession to investigate nuclear power:
....One of the reactors dancing with death at Fukushima Station 1 was built by Toshiba. Toshiba was also an architect of the emergency diesel system.
Now be afraid. Obama's $4 billion bailout in the making is called the South Texas Project. It's been sold as a red-white-and-blue way to make power domestically with a reactor from Westinghouse, a great American brand. However, the reactor will be made substantially in Japan by the company that bought the US brand name, Westinghouse - Toshiba.
I once had a Toshiba computer. I only had to send it in once for warranty work. However, it's kind of hard to mail back a reactor with the warranty slip inside the box if the fuel rods are melted and sinking halfway to the earth's core.
TEPCO and Toshiba don't know what my son learned in eighth grade science class: tsunamis follow Pacific Rim earthquakes. So, these companies are real stupid, eh? Maybe. More likely is that the diesels and related systems wouldn't have worked on a fine, dry afternoon.
Back in the day, when we checked the emergency backup diesels in America, a mind-blowing number flunked. At the New York nuclear plant, for example, the builders swore under oath that their three diesel engines were ready for an emergency. They'd been tested. The tests were faked; the diesels run for just a short time at low speed. When the diesels were put through a real test under emergency-like conditions, the crankshaft on the first one snapped in about an hour, then the second and third. We nicknamed the diesels, "Snap, Crackle and Pop." ....
Read this from Counterpunch (thanks to Lyn):
By DAVE LINDORFF
GE, the company that boasts that it "brings good things to life," was the designer of the nuclear plants that are blowing up like hot popcorn kernels at the Fukushima Daiichi generating plant north of Tokyo that was hit by the double-whammy of an 9.1 earthquake and a hugh tsunami.
In fact, the design of these facilities--a design which, it should be noted, was also used in 23 nuclear plants operating in the US in Alabama, Georgia, Illinois, Iowa, Massachusetts, Minnesota, Nebraska, New Jersey, New York, North Carolina, Pennsylvania and Vermont--appear to have included serious flaws, from a safety perspective.
The drawings of the plants in question, called Mark I systems, provide no way for venting hydrogen gas from the containment buildings, despite the fact that one of the first things that happens in the event of a cooling failure is the massive production of hydrogen gas by the exposed fuel rods in the core. This is why three of the nuclear generator buildings at Fukushima Daiichi have exploded with tremendous force blasting off the roof and walls of the structures, and damaging control equipment needed to control the reactors.
One would have thought that design engineers at GE would have thought about that possibility, and provided venting systems for any hydrogen gas being vented in an emergency into the building. But no. They didn't.
There is a worse problem though. Probably in an effort to keep the problem of nuclear waste hidden from the public, these plants feature huge pools of water up in the higher level of the containment building above the reactors, which hold and store the spent fuel rods from the reactor. These rods are still "hot" but besides the uranium fuel pellets, they also contain the highly radioactive and potentially biologically active decay products of the fission process--particularly radioactive Cesium 137, Iodine 131 and Strontium 90. (Some of GE's plants in the US feature this same design. The two GE Peach Bottom reactors near me, for example, each have two spent fuel tanks sitting above their reactors.)
As Robert Alvarez, a former nuclear energy adviser to President Bill Clinton, has written, if these waste containers, euphemistically called "ponds," were to be damaged in an explosion and lose their cooling and radiation-shielding water, they could burst into flame from the resulting burning of the highly flammable zirconium cladding of the fuel rods, blasting perhaps three to nine times as much of these materials into the air as was released by the Chernobyl reactor disaster. (And that's if just one reactor blows!) Each pool, Alvarez says, generally contains five to ten times as much nuclear material as the reactors themselves. Alvarez cites a 1997 Nuclear Regulatory Commission study that predicted that a waste pool fire could render a 188-square-mile area "uninhabitable" and do $59 billion worth of damage (but that was 13 years ago).
Another nuclear scientist agrees with Alvarez, quoted in an article in the Christian Science Monitor:
"There should be much more attention paid to the spent-fuel pools," says Arjun Makhijani, a nuclear engineer and president of the anti-nuclear power Institute for Energy and Environmental Research. "If there's a complete loss of containment [and thus the water inside], it can catch fire. There's a huge amount of radioactivity inside – far more than is inside the reactors. The damaged reactors are less likely to spread the same vast amounts of radiation that Chernobyl did, but a spent-fuel pool fire could very well produce damage similar to or even greater than Chernobyl."
Adding to that worry, Alvarez says photos of Reactor 3 seem to show white steam rising from the damaged facility, from a location where the spent fuel pond would likely be.
But it gets worse. According to news reports, the Reactor 3 unit was being fueled with MOX, a controversial mixed oxides fuel rod, which includes, in addition to uranium, a significant amount of plutonium--a far more dangerous element both chemically as a toxin, and in terms of its radioactivity.
You have to ask, what kind of numbskull would put the waste "pond" for spend fuel right above the reactor of a nuclear plant, thus insuring that in the event of a meltdown, not only would the core of the reactor blow up into the environment, but also all of the spent fuel from prior years?
I don't know. I heard about those waste "pools" in the past, and always assumed they were somewhere on the plant grounds away from the reactor itself, but now it turns out they are right in the line of fire of any meltdown. Boy, that's just brilliant!
It's as if you put the oil tank for your furnace right above the furnace in your basement, so that if there was some problem with the furnace it would ignite the tank, or as if you put the gas tank of your car right above the engine, so that if you had an engine fire, it would explode the gas tank! ..................................
1974 Rasmussen Report:
No. Radionuclide (Source Term in curies) Half Life
== ============ ======================== ==========
1 Cobalt-58 780 thousand 10.1 weeks
2 Cobalt-60 290 thousand 5.25 years
3 Krypton-85 560 thousand 10.8 years
4 Krypton-85m 24 million 4.4 hours
5 Krypton-87 47 million 1.25 hours
6 Krypton-88 68 million 2.8 hours
7 Rubidium-86 26 thousand 2.67 weeks
8 Strontium-89 94 million 7.4 weeks
9 Strontium-90 3 million 700 thousand 30.2 years
10 Strontium-91 110 million 9.7 hours
11 Yttrium-90 390 thousand 2.67 days
12 Yttrium-91 120 million 8.4 weeks
13 Zirconium-95 150 million 9.3 weeks
14 Zirconium-97 150 million 17.0 hours
15 Niobium-95 150 million 5.0 weeks
16 Molybdenum-99 160 million 2.8 days
17 Technetium-99m 140 million 6.0 hours
18 Ruthenium-103 110 million 5.64 weeks
19 Ruthenium-105 72 million 4.44 hours
20 Ruthenium-106 25 million 1.0 years
21 Rhodium-105 49 million 1.50 days
22 Tellurium-127 5 million 900 thousand 9.38 hours
23 Tellurium-127m 1 million 100 thousand 15.6 weeks
24 Tellurium-129 31 million 1.15 hours
25 Tellurium-129m 5 million 300 thousand 8.16 hours
26 Tellurium-131m 13 million 1.25 days
27 Tellurium-132 120 million 3.25 days
28 Antimony-127 6 million 100 thousand 3.88 days
29 Antimony-129 33 million 4.30 hours
30 Iodine-131 85 million 8.05 days
31 Iodine-132 120 million 2.30 hours
32 Iodine-133 170 million 21.0 hours
33 Iodine-134 190 million 53 minutes
34 Iodine-135 150 million 6.72 hours
35 Xenon-133 170 million 5.28 days
36 Xenon-135 34 million 9.2 hours
37 Cesium-134 7 million 500 thousand 2.05 years
38 Cesium-136 3 million 13.0 days
39 Cesium-137 4 million 700 thousand 30.1 years
40 Barium-140 160 million 12.8 days
41 Lanthanum-14 0 160 million 1.67 days
42 Cerium-141 150 million 4.6 weeks
43 Cerium-143 130 million 1.38 days
44 Cerium-144 85 million 40.6 weeks
45 Praseodymium-143 130 million 13.7 days
46 Neodymium-147 60 million 11.1 days
47 Neptunium-239 1 billion 640 million 2.35 days
48 Plutonium-238 57 thousand 89.0 years
49 Plutonium-239 21 thousand 24,000 years
50 Plutonium-240 21 thousand 6,571 years
51 Plutonium-241 3 million 400 thousand 14.6 years
52 Americium-241 1 thousand 7 hundred 410.7 years
53 Curium-242 500 thousand 23.3 weeks
54 Curium-244 23 thousand 18.1 years
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