Fairewinds’ Chief Engineer Arnie Gundersen introduces the Fairewinds Fukushima Nuclear Timeline from a distance. Arnie is in the United Kingdom this week to commemorate the tragic triple meltdown at Japan’s Fukushima Daiichi nuclear power plant on March 11, 2011 by speaking to the House of Commons and several other venues about the disaster.
If you didn't check it out last week, we invite you to watch the latest special edition video by the Fairewinds Crew:
Four years have passed since the tragic triple meltdowns at the Fukushima Daiichi nuclear power plants, and the hits keep on coming as massive amounts of radioactively contaminated water continue to flow into the Pacific Ocean and no solution exists for safely containing the ongoing accumulation of radioactive debris contaminating the prefecture. Created in two parts, Fairewinds Energy Education presents you with a 5-minute retrospective followed by a 25-minute in-depth reflection on the Fukushima Meltdown 4 Years Later.
Dozens of nuclear reactors will, for various reasons, potentially cease to generate power during the coming decade, leaving a legacy of highly radioactive spent fuel and debris that must be safely sequestered for hundreds of years.
What most people are surprised to know is that some of these highly radioactive reactor leftovers will represent a hazard to all living things for thousands and thousands of years.
Addressing a Senate committee that ultimately moved to ban the aboveground nuclear testing in the 1960’s, Dr. Sternglass testified to the hazards posed to infants and small children from exposure to the radioactive byproducts of such tests.
Now, fifty plus years later, Fairewinds is receiving many unsolicited requests from parents near Fukushima to have their children’s teeth analyzed for evidence of Sr-90.
Coincidentally, test wells in the soil surrounding the now idle Vermont Yankee have revealed the presence of this same telltale “tooth seeker,” evidencing the likelihood that still more fission products have been liberated into the Vermont pastoral landscape.
The NRC is singularly uncurious about this discovery and has recently decreed that VY owner-operator Entergy has no need to trace the source of the leak now before decommissioning begins, which may push out the possibility for any investigation decades from now.
The lesson here is that there is far more to caretaking nuclear waste than finds its way into estimates of tons of spent fuel or demolition debris.
In the exclusion zone surrounding the devastated and entombed Russian Chernobyl nuclear plant, trees that are reaching the end of their life cycle are not returning to feed the soil, as would normally be the case. Instead, they turn tinder dry and are prone to destruction by fire. So thirty years after the disaster at Chernobyl, investigators are discussing this new phenomena and its potential significance to the aftermath of the Fukushima Daiichi ongoing tragedy.
According to Science News, it is believed this failure to yield to the forces of normal decay is due to the loss of a critical sector of wildlife in the exclusion zone: insects and micro-organisms that play an important role in the life-cycle of trees, but readily succumb to even low-level radiation in their environment.
So, while nuclear industry apologists have been quick to celebrate the “renewed biodiversity” of a Chernobyl forest now free of human competition (‘Wolves of Chernobyl’), this apparent bounty disguises a “missing link” in the essential food chain that will inevitably take its toll.
Meanwhile those pest-free trees represent a renewed radioactive hazard that is unique to their situation. The trees absorbed air-borne fission products that were released in the 1986 reactor explosion. Unlike the bugs and bacteria, the trees were such large organisms that they continued to live and grow.
Safely ensconced in tree tissue, “hot particles” like cesium-137 have remained sequestered until now, when the dead trees are ready to re-release these isotopes into the environment once again.
Because the trees cannot rot due to microorganic activity, they simply dry into firewood. The liberated radioactive isotopes don’t fall to the ground incorporating themselves in the developing soil. Instead, they are sent again heavenward in the smoke and ash from forest fires, where they can be carried thousands of miles for redistribution halfway around the world.
You might think of this as the “globalization of risk” from a reactor accident anywhere in the world.
Without clear-cutting on a truly epic scale, as the spontaneous wildfires that plague Chernobyl inevitably come to Fukushima, this cycle of “black rain” seems doomed to repeat.
– Book of the Month
Too Hot To Touch: The Problem of High-Level Nuclear Waste by William M. Alley and Rosemarie Alley
Written by Dr. William and Rosemarie Alley, a husband and wife team, Too Hot To Touch: The Problem of High-Level Nuclear Waste confronts the controversies and critical issues surrounding nuclear waste management in the United States with references to the problem on an international scale. Dr. Alley is a leading expert in the field of hydrogeology, who served as Chief of the Office of Groundwater for the United States Geological Survey for almost two decades. Dr. Alley’s duties with USGS included the oversight of the Yucca Mountain federal nuclear waste project from 2002- 2010. Nuclear waste management in the United States remains a hot topic with no long-term solution in sight since the Yucca Mountain project was shut down for not being a geologically sound nuclear waste containment site.
This easy to read book guides one through the history of nuclear waste disposal from the early days of atomic bombs, through the testing of low radioactive releases on the ocean floor, to the present not-in-my-backyard communities fighting to protect themselves from becoming nuclear garbage dumps. Too Hot To Touch will appeal to the geologist, nuclear scientist, and technologist wanting to learn from history as they face the difficult task of implementing a safe solution to this highly politically and socially charged technical problem of toxic leftovers.
Fallout: An American Nuclear Tragedy by Phillip L. Franklin
The lingering effects of radiation are severe and devastating for the victims exposed to the radioactive substances released during a nuclear meltdown like the one at Fukushima Daiichi. The consequences of exposure are well known by the nuclear industry and include various life threatening cancers and DNA mutations. Fallout: An American Nuclear Tragedy is a harrowing story of nuclear testing in Nevada in the 1950s and 1960s, and the subsequent health effects of the unknowing innocents affected downwind in Nevada, Utah, and Arizona. Pulitzer Prize winning journalist and author Phillip Franklin attended the 1982 trial from which these stories of cancer victims and their survivors were uncovered. This book is particularly relevant with the triple meltdown at Fukushima Daiichi where radioactive particles spread far and wide, creating an expansive fallout umbrella.
A recent study by nine leading U.K. universities determined that by 2050 50% of the U.K.’s electricity demands could be met by locally owned low carbon emission sources. This technically feasible effort would require a change in the current traditional business model that adheres to electric power generation provided by the “Big Six”, Great Britain’s oldest and largest energy suppliers. To meet this goal, the civic energy sector, comprised of communities, co-operatives, local authorities, town and parish councils, social housing providers, etc., would need to take on a larger role in meeting power demands by actively participating in ownership of generating electricity through low carbon emitting sources like smart-grids. Report co-author Áine O’ Grady, Research Officer in the Sustainable Energy Research Team at the University of Bath said: “Significant environmental benefits, particular in terms of tackling climate change, could be delivered through such a distributed energy future.”
To follow up on a VICE Magazine story we recently sent out, the conflict between the Committee for Future Generations composed of concerned citizens of northern Saskatchewan versus the Nuclear Waste Management Organization has been resolved. The Committee for Future Generations has been fighting nuclear waste storage in their area of Saskatchewan for four years and on Tuesday the final zone of contention was taken off of NWMO’s list. “I am pleased for future generations because they are not going to be faced with this” said Committee organizer Candyce Paul. Watch the reactions in a recently released APTN news clip here.
Protection of the public and state’s rights have been nullified by the Nuclear Regulatory Commission’s (NRC’s) approval of Entergy Corp.’s request to eliminate an Emergency Planning Zone (EPZ) around the Vermont Yankee nuclear reactor site by April 2016. Without an emergency response system, Vermont Yankee will be disconnected from all emergency sirens that dot the 10-mile EPZ around the plant, iodine tablets will not be provided for residents surrounding VY, and the offsite emergency center will shutdown. In response, the state of Vermont has requested a hearing before the NRC on Entergy’s exemption request and the NRC’s approval of it. "Vermont is challenging the end of the EPZ and the changes proposed by Entergy," said NRC spokesperson Neil Sheehan. "The ASLB hasn't, at this point, accepted the request for a hearing, but the panel will consider the state's position,” Sheehan added.
Fairewinds believes that since Vermont Yankee’s spent fuel pool contains the equivalent of 700 nuclear bombs of radioactive cesium, this is not the time in the life of the plant to diminish any emergency planning regulations. If anything more stringent procedures should be put in place while the fuel is cooling and being moved to dry cask storage.