Are the meltdowns at Fukushima Daiichi over? The answer is no. In Fairewinds’ latest video, Chief Engineer and nuclear expert Arnie Gundersen updates viewers on what’s going on at the Japanese nuclear meltdown site, Fukushima Daiichi. As the Japanese government and utility owner Tokyo Electric Power Company push for the quick decommissioning and dismantling of this man-made disaster, the press and scientists need to ask, “Why is the Ukrainian government waiting at least 100 years to attempt to decommission Chernobyl, while the Japanese Government and TEPCO claim that Fukushima Daiichi will be decommissioned and dismantled during the next 30 years?”
Like so many big government + big business controversies, the answer has nothing to do with science, and everything to do with politics and money. To understand Fukushima Daiichi, you need to follow the money.
More than four years after the triple meltdown at Fukushima Daiichi, many radioactive isotopes created inside the reactors as nuclear waste, including cesium, strontium, and plutonium, continue to bleed into the Pacific Ocean. Even though the Pacific Ocean contains more than 700 million cubic kilometers of water, low concentrations of radioactivity have already migrated across the Pacific to the Vancouver and Alaskan coasts as Fukushima Daiichi slowly contaminates the largest body of water on Earth.
The Pacific Ocean is 30,000 times larger than all the Great Lakes combined, and the once pristine watershed of the Great Lakes is now home to 30 nuclear power reactors. Eighteen of these nuclear reactors have the unique Canadian CANDU design and are located in Ontario Province at Bruce (8), Pickering (6) and Darlington (4), while 12 are US designs located at nine site locations in Michigan, New York State, Ohio, and Wisconsin. In addition, several temporary nuclear waste storage sites on Lake Huron near the Bruce site are in imminent danger of becoming permanent nuclear waste dumps that will be abandoned underground within one mile of the Lake.
Imagine the 39-year-old Bruce station on Lake Huron or the 44-year-old Palisades plant in Michigan on Lake Michigan having a meltdown like Fukushima Daiichi did in March 2011. The concentration of radioactive waste in the water would be roughly 30,000 times higher in the Great Lakes than in the Pacific Ocean after the triple meltdown at Fukushima Daiichi. Think of the devastation that would occur as 40,000,000 people lose their water supply and the crops along these waterways are contaminated with nuclear waste for decades if not hundreds of years as the St. Lawrence River flows right past Montreal and Quebec City. What are the commercial ramifications for cities along the Great Lakes or the St. Lawrence River when ocean freighters choose to no longer travel there for fear of contaminating the vessels?
Is a meltdown possible at one of the 30 reactors upstream from Montreal and Quebec City? Unfortunately, the answer is yes. Counting Three Mile Island, Chernobyl, and the three meltdowns at Fukushima Daiichi, there have been five meltdowns during the last 35-years. Three entirely different reactor designs in three different countries on three different continents have melted down spewing nuclear waste materials to many other areas. History shows that there will likely be a nuclear meltdown about once every seven years.
Where will the next meltdown be? There is no crystal ball with that answer, but engineers do know that the older a nuclear plant becomes, the more likely it will break. So could that meltdown be in older plants with the unique Canadian CANDU design at Bruce, Pickering or Darlington, in old embrittled plants like Palisades on Lake Michigan, or in any of the other US lakeside nuclear plants that are approaching 40-years old?
Japan's Tipping Point: Crucial Choices in the Post-Fukushima World is a little paperback published November 1, 2011 by Vermont author Mark Pendergrast. Japan was at a crucial tipping point in its energy paradigm when Mark first wrote this book after the March 2011 triple meltdown at Fukushima Daiichi. Currently, Japan imports all of its fossil fuel and can no longer rely upon nuclear power, following the massive Fukushima Daiichi nuclear power tragedy.
Prior to Japan’s Fukushima Daiichi nuclear power tragedy, Mark was awarded an Abe Fellowship for Journalists to visit five out of 13 so-called Eco-Model Cities, and shortly after the nuclear disaster, he traveled to “Japan to investigate Japan's renewable energy, Eco-Model Cities, food policy, recycling, and energy conservation, expecting to find innovative, cutting edge programs.”
“I figured that because the Japanese import virtually all of their fossil fuel and are technologically sophisticated, that they must be doing innovative things with renewable energy,” Mark has said.
Mark says he discovered that he was naive. Even though “the Japanese boast of their eco-services for eco-products in eco-cities… they rely primarily on imported fossil fuel …live in energy-wasteful homes, and import 60% of their food.”
Like Mark Pendergrast, we at Fairewinds Energy Education had hoped that the massive tragedy of a triple meltdown at Fukushima Daiichi would become the Tipping Point for Japan. Arnie and I envisioned that by now the technological and entrepreneurial Japanese would lead the world in the innovative use of Small Modular Renewables, wave production technology, and larger innovative solar and wind installations. Instead, Germany, under the leadership of the physicist and once pro-nuclear Chancellor Angela Merkel, has taken world leadership in renewable energy and therefore has the strongest economy in Europe. Look at this week’s news clips to see that even oil rich Saudi Arabia is grabbing renewable energy with both hands in an effort to maintain a rich energy portfolio as world demand for oil, gas, coal, and nuclear continues to decline.
Watch Fairewinds Energy Education’s video Fukushima Decommissioning: Follow The Money to see how politics and money continue to push nuclear power and block Japan’s economic growth and what could have been world dominance in renewable energy. Then read Mark’s book Japan's Tipping Point: Crucial Choices in the Post-Fukushima World to further understand what futures are still possible for Japan.
Fairewinds in the News:
The Columbia Generating Station, a nuclear power facility in Washington, was shutdown on May 9th for refueling that was scheduled to take forty two days. Fifty days later, Columbia is only partially online, functioning at 60% of full operating capacity. Nuclear outages like this are planned to the hour, it is unusual to take an additional ten days then operate on only 60%. Nuclear plants are designed to be either shutdown or working at 100% capacity, not partial operation. In an interview with KBOO radio, Arnie Gundersen of Fairewinds Energy Education gives his expert analysis of what might be going on as the public is kept in the dark by both Columbia's owner Energy Northwest and the Nuclear Regulatory Commission.
Mycle Schneider’s annual World Nuclear Industry Status Report 2015 is out! Last week, Fairewinds released Mycle Schneider’s presentation to the World Uranium Symposium on the high cost of nuclear and the eclipse of economically viable renewable energy alternatives.
Schneider’s latest nuclear industry report shows solar, wind and other forms of renewable energy besides hydro-electric dams now supply more electricity than nuclear does in Japan, China, India and five other major economies accounting for about half the world's population. Rising costs in construction, maintenance, and substantial building delays accompanied by increasing public opposition to its high risk of radioactive contamination has hurt the nuclear industry. While renewable energy sources are experiencing incredible price drops for consumers as they have become increasingly efficient, better managed, and now storable. "The impressively resilient hopes that many people still have of a global nuclear renaissance are being trumped by a real-time revolution in efficiency‐plus‐renewables‐plus‐storage, delivering more and more solutions on the ground every year," Jonathon Porritt, co-founder and trustee of the Forum for the Future, wrote in a foreword to the report.
Saudi Arabia, the world’s second largest oil producer, is going solar. Currently the world’s sixth-largest consumer of oil, Saudis burn a quarter of the oil they produce and their domestic consumption has been rising at an alarming 7 percent a year. According to The Atlantic, Saudi Arabia “isn’t concerned about global warming; the last thing they want is an end to the fossil-fuel era. Quite the contrary: they see investing in solar energy as a way to remain a global oil power.” As Saudi Arabia turns to solar power to save money, the country admits that solar is the more economic choice. The government has plans to build a commercial-scale solar-panel factory, and another factory is about to begin producing large quantities of polysilicon, a material used to make solar cells. Next year, Saudi Arabia’s state owned electricity giants Saudi Aramco, the world’s biggest oil company, and the Saudi Electricity Company have scheduled to begin 10 solar projects around the country.
Areva, the notorious French nuclear giant, has revealed that it has known since 2006 of the faulty steel vessel used in its European Pressurized Reactors (EPRs). The steel surrounding the top and bottom of Areva’s EPRs contain excessive carbon that can cause disastrous cracks in the reactor vessel that cannot be replaced once the reactor is in operation. Until now, Areva maintained it had no knowledge of this tremendous flaw when it sold its $9 Billion EPR model to Finland, China, and Great Britain.
Japan currently has 17,000 metric tons of radioactive waste and nowhere to put it. “It’s part of the price of nuclear energy,” Allison Macfarlane, former Chairwoman of the U.S. Nuclear Regulatory Commission, said in Tokyo in an interview about atomic waste.
Due to the magnitude of the Fukushima Daiichi nuclear catastrophe, all of Japan’s 43 operational nuclear reactors have remained offline. Safety checks of each nuclear power plant have resulted in the permanent shutdown of five reactors, while politicians and nuclear industry lobbyists and their bankers argue about restarting this technology.
It would be a “failure in our ethical responsibility to future generations” to restart reactors without a clear plan for waste storage The Science Council of Japan said in April. Japan remains extremely challenged in its attempt to clean up the site of the 2011 Fukushima Daiichi nuclear meltdowns because the technology to do so has not yet been invented and the cost is already estimated to reach half a trillion dollars.
As Japan’s nuclear industry continues to push for restart the idled plants, Japan’s Nuclear Waste Management Organization (NUMO) decided to impose nuclear waste storage in select regions of the country as a permanent storage solution rather than the organization’s original proposal to give districts the opportunity to volunteer storage. No regions in Japan had volunteered to accept the burden of nuclear waste abandonment, and at least 70% of the Japanese people remain opposed to restarting the shutdown nukes.
Attorney Peter Bradford, former member of the Nuclear Regulatory Commission, and Chair of both the Maine and New York utility regulatory commissions, pointedly criticized the promotion of nuclear power in the Maine Legislature this session by Gov. Paul LePage and Sen. Eric Brakey.
In a special release from the Bangor Daily News, Bradford questions Sen. Brakey’s push for a thorium reactor to be built in Maine using a uranium isotope different from those that fuel nearly all of today’s power reactors. Bradford is criticized Gov. LePage’s attempt to exempt “small modular reactors” from Maine’s required public referendum process for all nuclear power plants.
“What on earth is going on here?”, Bradford asks since both nuclear reactors proposed by Brakey and LePage have never been built or operated any where in the world, and no one knows their cost or if the technologies would even work.
With skyrocketing market price projections for electricity produced by nuclear reactors currently being constructed at customers’ expense in South Carolina and Georgia, no private company will invest in a new reactor in Maine with New England’s preexisting power market rules. Moreover, large public subsidies would be required to finance the construction of either a thorium reactor or a small modular reactor contradicting Gov. LePage’s veto of much smaller subsidies for solar energy.
Maine has already built, operated, and shut down a nuclear power plant that now sits full of radioactive waste without a permanent resting place. The Legislature’s solar energy subsidy would have added a surcharge amounting to less than one-tenth of a percent to Maine electric bills versus the high cost of expensive experimental nuclear technology. Expensive nuclear power boondoggles and no permanent technological solution for massive amounts of nuclear waste is why Fairewinds supports Small Modular Renewables.
“An earthquake will destroy a sizable portion of the coastal Northwest. The question is when,” writes New Yorker contributor Kathryn Schulz in her latest article entitled “The Really Big One”.
By examining the sequence of natural disasters that occurred in Japan on March 11, 2011, world-leading seismologists conclude that what happened along the Japanese coast was a “foreshock” or a preview of another earthquake still to come.
And where will this occur? Seismologists predict that the Cascadia subduction zone, a fault line north of the renowned San Andreas fault, is at most risk for the next big earthquake challenging humankind. The Cascadia subduction zone begins seven hundred miles off the coast of the Pacific Northwest near Cape Mendocino, California, continues along Oregon and Washington, and terminates around Vancouver Island, Canada. This subduction zone gets its name from the Cascade Range, a chain of volcanic mountains and connecting faults that follow the same course inland where the Columbia Generating Station resides with a BWR-5 reactor and Mark II containment structure, just like the one at Fukushima Daiichi.
Subduction zones indicate a portion of the earth where one tectonic plate is sliding over the other. These zones breed earthquakes and tsunamis. The result of an earthquake from the Cascadia subduction zone would directly effect the cities Seattle, Tacoma, Portland, Eugene, Salem, Olympia, and some seven million people.
“Our operating assumption is that everything west of Interstate 5 will be toast,” said Kenneth Murphy, who directs FEMA’s Region X, the division responsible for Oregon, Washington, Idaho, and Alaska. The devastation will be unlike any other natural disaster in history with FEMA estimating nearly thirteen thousand people dead, twenty-seven thousand injured, and the need to provide shelter for a million displaced people, plus food and water for another two and a half million.