Demystifying Nuclear Power:
Nuclear IS Atomic
written by Chiho Kaneko, member of Fairewinds Board of Directors
Fairewinds Energy Education Board Member Chiho Kaneko is this week’s special guest blogger. Chiho is a woman of many talents. She is fluent in both English and Japanese, is an experienced translator, columnist, author, artist, pianist, and singer. We at Fairewinds are very thankful for Chiho’s work on our Board of Directors and the heart and spirit she brings to everything she does for us and for others around the world.
I worked as a volunteer interpreter at the United Nations in April 2015 on behalf of the Nihon Hidankyo (The Japan Confederation of A- and H-Bomb Sufferers Organizations). As 2015 marked the 70th anniversary of the nuclear bombing of Hiroshima and Nagasaki, the Nihon Hidankyo sent a large delegation to attend the United Nations 2015 Review Conference of the Parties to the Treaty on the Non-Proliferation of Nuclear Weapons (NPT). The delegates to the Non-Proliferation Treaty Conference were the survivors, who told their personal stories of "The Day" and what followed during the ensuing days, weeks, months, and years.
I was stunned by their stories:
"I was a seven-year-old boy, playing outside on the street with my younger brother and a cousin; both of them were four years old. A sudden flash and blast knocked us all, as well as flattening all the houses along the street, which quickly started to burn. My brother and I were in the lee side of a building and miraculously spared any injury. But our cousin was in a sunny spot. He died three days later."
"I was thirteen years old, a junior at a girls school. At 8:15 in the morning, we were at a factory outside of the city center when a classmate shouted, 'It's a B29! Oh, it dropped a white parachute!' The next moment a blinding flash flared up, and I was blown off my feet by the shock wave. When I finally crawled out of the rubbles of the collapsed factory building, I realized my school uniform was covered with blood from my nose, and countless shards of windowpane were embedded in my body. The freshman class of my school, 223 of them, happened to be working near the city center that morning. None of them survived."
Meeting these courageous people, who survived the destructive powers of the atom unleashed upon innocent victims for the first time in the history of the world, really renewed my interest in reading and viewing all that I could.
When I was visiting my family in Japan during August 2015, I watched a special 70th commemoration television story. The story shared by a Hiroshima A-bomb survivor chilled me, when she said,
“I was thirteen years old. A few hours after the atomic bomb was dropped on Hiroshima, I spotted my father, standing a few paces before me in the line of people waiting to get some medical help. Oh, he, too, survived that incredible bomb, I thought, and I tried to grab his arm -- but I ended up just pulling his sleeve off his shoulder. --- No, it was not his sleeve. It was the entire skin of my father's arm that I was holding in my hand…”
I wondered, why did the entire skin slip off his arm like that? I learned that,
“The thermal ray of the A-bomb instantaneously boiled the fluid in the body, causing a flash burn where steam bursts through the skin. This is why people who barely survived the A-bomb were seen walking around like ghosts, with their arms thrust forward and with rag-like pieces of skin hanging from their arms and hands, not to mention from other parts of their body. Some were seen trying to hold in their own popped-out intestines.”
Many who "survived" the initial impact of the A-bomb died within hours. Others died within a few days. People, who had severe burns all over their bodies, were tormented by maggots that quickly inhabited their flesh in Japan’s August heat. Several survivors told me that they had to pick maggots off the bodies of their family members. Those memories and images, coupled with the memory of the overwhelming indescribable odor, haunt them to this day.
Even those who did not personally suffer immediate physical injuries have spent their entire lives being fearful of the effects of radiation exposure from such a terrorizing blast. A 77-year-old female Hiroshima survivor told this story:
"I was a second-grader in Hiroshima when the bombing destroyed my elementary school. I watched my cousins die one by one in the days following the bombing. I, too, experienced hair loss in the fall. Thanks to my parents' selfless efforts to save me, I lived, and I have been able to survive to this day. When I conceived my daughter, I was torn about whether or not to deliver her, because of the unknown effects of the radiation. I ended up giving birth to her, and it was such a relief to see her grow up normal. But a few years ago, she was diagnosed with a rare form of cancer and died at the age of forty-five. For a long time I blamed myself for her death."
Nuclear weapons were created to kill as many people as possible with a single blast, and they proved to be quite successful for that purpose. The bomb was not dropped on Hiroshima and Nagasaki to end the war, whose end was already being negotiated behind closed doors, but because the US wanted to show Russia the power it had achieved.
According to the History Channel,
“Truman and many of his advisers hoped that the U.S. atomic monopoly might offer diplomatic leverage with the Soviets. In this fashion, the dropping of the atomic bomb on Japan can be seen as the first shot of the Cold War.”
We all have ended up being held hostage to this powerfully destructive technology. The NPT seems to be a remarkable platform where most of the nations in the world actually come together and talk with each other. (Currently only five nations are not part of the Treaty: India, Israel, North Korea, Pakistan, and South Sudan.)
However, in my personal opinion, the NPT fails to address the most critical humanitarian goal, which is to ensure that there is no more suffering caused by nuclear weapons. I believe that the only way to achieve this goal is for all nuclear-weapons-possessing nations to stop making new weapons and to give up their stockpiles. There is no other way.
The so-called "deterrence by nuclear armaments" philosophy is simply a form of intimidation, because it still is the manifestation of an aggressive attitude. Why haven’t we learned from history that armaments simply lead to more conflicts?
While listening to the Hiroshima and Nagasaki survivors tell their stories at the U.N. in April, I had this revelation: These people are the real deterrent.
Each time the survivors share their terrifying memories, repeating them over and over to everyone and anyone, as they reveal the scars on their bodies and share the grief within their hearts, they teach so many of us how cruel nuclear weapons are. Their messages say loudly and clearly, no more nuclear weapons, and no more wars.
I really hope for a day when the world is free from nuclear weapons, and really, free from war.
Of course, none of us can just hope and dream for peace. To achieve worldwide peace, each one of us must actively work toward "sustainable peace" throughout the world. Peace throughout the world is not the kind of peace that many leaders advocate, because they are primarily motivated by the desire to maintain privileges and assets enjoyed by their country's wealthy class, which doesn't lead to a long-lasting and universal peace on earth.
It is my belief that the current government of Japan is an example of leaders making policies that are counter to "sustainable peace".
Japan’s Diet (Parliament) passed The Security Bill that defies the Japanese Constitution's unique clause of "Renunciation of War." A new government agency called the Defense Equipment Agency opened this month, and already a powerful Japanese business organization (Keidanren) is promoting the vision of manufacturing weapons and exporting them as a key component for Japan's future economic growth. The ongoing use of nuclear power is part of that vision, along with the full operation of the Rokkasho nuclear re-processing plant in northern Japan.
I cannot help but think of the irony and hypocrisy of the fact that Japan was allowed to build a commercial nuclear re-processing facility, one of only three that exist in the world, given the current bickering over the Iran nuclear deal. Rokkasho was touted as the solution to the ever-increasing spent nuclear fuel stockpile, and yet so far it has been riddled with technical problems during its test runs. Essentially, Rokkasho chemically strips away bomb-grade plutonium from inside spent fuel rods after they have been the fuel inside Japan’s nuclear power plants’ radioactive nuclear cores.
I am sincerely afraid that some members of the government see this as enabling Japan to move one step closer to having the capability to make its own nuclear weapons. And I fear that the environmental consequences of operating such a toxic plant will be devastating.
I shudder at the blatant exhibition of greed for money and power by the leaders of my country. And I am not alone -- For weeks I read reports of large rallies and marches happening all over Japan, urging the parliament not to pass the Security Bill. Since its chaotic passage on September 19, many scholars and citizen's groups have denounced the legality of this bill. People fear that Japan may be moving toward military rule and the erosion of civil rights in the name of national security, just as it did before and during WWII.
I am certain that no one on earth wants to be the victim of nuclear weapons or a nuclear power catastrophe and meltdown. The nuclear power industry grew out of the nuclear bombs that decimated two Japanese cities in August 1945. These two industries are still inextricably entwined and will never be separated. The enrichment technology to make new uranium fuel is identical to that needed to make the uranium bomb that destroyed Hiroshima, while the plutonium stripped from spent nuclear fuel at reprocessing plants like Rokkasho is identical to the plutonium used in the plutonium bomb that destroyed Nagasaki.
As long as we accept the narrative that necessitates the existence of nuclear weapons, nuclear power, and other nuclear facilities, we will never ensure that the world will be free from nuclear-caused suffering.
I know life is complicated, and the world's conflicts over its limited resources probably will not abate anytime soon, but I keep thinking about the words of Kuninori Ohya, a late historian and peace scholar from my home prefecture of Iwate:
"Peace by force is nothing but a temporary measure for the sake of protecting someone's vested rights and interests."
The private conversation I had with a 77-year-old female Hiroshima survivor, at the U.N. conference I mentioned earlier, revealed some simple truths. She said,
"The government says they need to beef up our defense capabilities in order to protect us. That's a lie. They cannot protect us with weapons -- you only need to look at what happened in WWII. They couldn't protect us."
She continued: "I experienced a lot of discrimination in my life because I am a Hibakusha -- "the Exposed." It happened when I tried to find employment, it happened when I was getting married, and it happened when my daughter wanted to marry someone. It's all because the government has not honestly dealt with the legacy of Hiroshima and Nagasaki.
Two years ago, I gave a talk as a Hiroshima survivor at a local junior high school in Chiba prefecture. After the talk, an 8th-grade girl chased me down the corridor, grabbed my hand and thanked me. She said she was an evacuee from Fukushima, being sheltered at a relative's house in Chiba. After a moment, I sensed that she wanted to say something more, because she kept looking in my eyes without letting go of my hand. I asked, 'What is it?' She finally said, 'Will I be able to have a child all right?' This was a really sad and difficult moment for me. . . I managed to give her encouragement, but the fact is that she, too, is a Hibakusha, not just a disaster victim as she is usually referred to."
photo by Arkadiusz Podniesinski, Fukushima Exclusion Zone, plastic bags of radioactive garbage line the Pacific coast
According to a Pew Research Center survey earlier this year, "56% of Americans believe the use of nuclear weapons (at the end of WWII) was justified; 34% say it was not. In Japan only 14% say the bombing was justified, versus 79% who say it was not."
It must be noted that the percentage of Americans who think the use of nuclear weapons was justified has decreased compared with surveys done decades ago.
In 2014, nine utilities that own nuclear power plants in Japan collectively spent more than $11.5 billion just to maintain those plants while they were idle. By contrast, Japan's solar energy output has grown 9.5 times in the past five years to 27 million KW as of March 2015, which is the equivalent of more than 20 nuclear power plants.
Fairewinds’ Chief Engineer, Arnie Gundersen, sat down with CCTV Host Margaret Harrington to discuss, “Nuclear Power: Who is Looking Out for the Public?”
Ms. Harrington and Mr. Gundersen’s conversation covers the troubles with nuclear industry regulation locally at Vermont Yankee, nationally with discontinued cancer research by the Nuclear Regulatory Commission (NRC), the worldwide impact of constant radioactive pollution daily emitting from TEPCO’s (Tokyo Electric Power Co.) triple meltdown at the Fukushima Daiichi site in Japan, and Japan’s decision to force the victims of the Fukushima Daiichi disaster to move back to their now contaminated and destroyed homes that lie within the evacuation zone. In closing, Mr. Gundersen points out that we should not be calling the nuclear meltdown at Fukushima Daiichi an accident “because,” as he explains, “an accident is like when an owl hits your windshield. You have no control over it.”
Mr. Gundersen and Fairewinds Energy Education have repeatedly pointed out that nuclear engineers and designers in the US and Japan knew that there were flaws in the plant’s original design and construction, including no tsunami wall, a site that had its topography radically reengineered causing ongoing ground water issues, and a known lack of adherence to current seismic regulations.
Looking towards a brighter future, Mr. Gundersen said, “I think the public’s perception of nuclear has fundamentally changed and the press’s perception of nuclear has fundamentally changed… And the money has changed. In the last five years, solar has plummeted. The cost of a solar array has plummeted and the cost of a nuclear plant has increased. So we’re seeing nuclear plants shut down now and the press understands that it’s not economical and it’s not safe.”
Fairewinds in the News:
Nuclear Renaissance? Not in Plymouth, Massachusetts where Entergy Corp. just announced that they will be shutting down their Pilgrim Nuclear Power Station located in Plymouth. A generation ago, New England was one of the most nuclear energy dependent spots in the nation, but today New England is shutting down nuclear reactors left and right to make way for economically efficient, renewable energy. For years, the poor economics of nuclear power have plagued New Englanders, and at the root of each shutdown is the inability of nuclear power to compete in the energy marketplace. Entergy has admitted to losing between $10-40 million per year at Pilgrim according to GreenWorld News. The Fitzpatrick reactor in upstate New York, also owned by Entergy, is in a similar money-losing situation to that at Pilgrim. Entergy says it will make a decision about the future of Fitzpatrick by the end of October 2015.
Fairewinds’ Arnie Gundersen explains in GreenWorld’s article how with each Entergy shutdown, there is an increase in overhead costs for the remaining nuclear reactors. Entergy’s support personnel are based in Mississippi, so with each reactor shutdown the remaining reactors take on a greater burden of Entergy's overall costs. New England is likely to see its former nuclear reactor fleet cut in half by 2019, and it will most likely be replaced by a more economically feasible and environmentally compatible renewable power system. As New England leads the way to a progressive renewable future, it is important to remember that none of this could have happened without dedicated groups’ long-term commitment to public safety, and affordable and environmentally compatible energy sources.
Featured Report:Lessons from Fukushima by Greenpeace, Intl.
Commissioned by Greenpeace International one year after the March 11, 2011 nuclear meltdown at Fukushima Daiichi, this report addresses the lessons that must be learned from this catastrophe. Four-years later, this nuclear disaster is far from over and continues to provide a unique opportunity for us to ask ourselves what this tragedy has taught us not only about nuclear power, but also about how vulnerable the public and environment is to industry-led political influence. Chapter 3, “The Echo Chamber: Regulatory Capture and the Fukushima Daiichi Disaster,” is Fairewinds’ contribution to this important text. This great read is available in full, for free, on-line.
Should your taxpayer money fund radioactive contamination of the Grand Canyon so that corporations can make profit from the sale of uranium?
It will if powerful corporate money wins its federal lawsuit against the Department of the Interior (DOI) and the citizens who rely upon river water that flows through the Grand Canyon for their drinking water.
The National Mining Association and the Nuclear Energy Institute (the lobbying arm for the nuclear industry) sued the DOI in federal court September 18, 2015 to end the current ban on new uranium mining claims on public land surrounding the Grand Canyon, one of the United State’s greatest natural treasures and the American South West’s crucial water source.
During 2012, then interior secretary Ken Salazar worked with a strong coalition of indigenous groups, county supervisors, chambers of commerce, ranchers, hunters, bird-watchers, artists, scientists, Arizona’s governor, game and fish commissioners and business owners to impose a 20-year moratorium on thousands of uranium mining claims in an effort to stop the unconscionable contamination and irreversible damage to the canyon’s vital water supply.
Federal taxpayers, that means you and me, have already shelled out more than $15 million to clean up an abandoned uranium mine on the canyon’s South Rim. This $15 million cleanup effort removed surface toxic waste, but water flowing through the mine’s radioactive ore continues to poison a spring-fed creek within the canyon.
In his moving op-ed featured in the New York Times, Arizona native and former U.S. Senator Mark Udall shares Congressman Raúl Grijalva’s plans to introduce the Greater Grand Canyon Heritage National Monument Act to Congress next week.
The Act, written in collaboration with Havasupai, Hualapai and Hopi leaders, would preserve the Grand Canyon’s rich heritage of “biological, cultural, recreational, geological, educational and scientific values” and make permanent the 20-year ban on new mining claims, but as Udall notes would allow hunting, grazing, recreation and all other uses to continue under existing laws. The Navajo Nation, which banned all uranium mining on its land in 2005, joined in support of this bill along with Zuni, Paiute and Yavapai leaders.
In a unique twist of fate, there is little hope that this current Congress will do much to pass this socially conscious and environmentally crucial bill however, the 1906 Antiquities Act, as Udall points out, “gives the president unilateral authority to set aside federal lands as protected national monuments to stop the looting of archaeological sites and for reasons of ‘historic or scientific interest. ”
“In 1975, Congress nearly doubled the park’s size, declaring that the entire Grand Canyon ‘including tributary side canyons and surrounding plateaus, is a natural feature of national and international significance.’ Senator Barry Goldwater of Arizona, a Republican, introduced the bill. My dad, Congressman Morris Udall, a Democrat from Arizona, helped unite bipartisan support to better protect Arizona’s and America’s most famous natural wonder. The Grand Canyon Enlargement Act, signed into law by President Gerald Ford four decades ago, returned more than 100,000 acres of federal land to the Havasupai tribe. It also effectively banned the building of two new dams in the canyon’s upper and lower gorge. But it, too, fell short in protecting the Grand Canyon in its entirety. Today, four uranium mines operate within the watershed that drains directly into Grand Canyon National Park,” former Senator Udall wrote in the NYT op-ed.
While, NEI and the NMA claim in their lawsuit to be disenfranchised by the uranium-mining ban,
“The NMA’s filing Friday contended that the DOI says the ban maintains the status quo and causes no irreparable harm. However, the NMA said the economic value of the uranium production largely precluded by the agency’s land withdrawal is $3.16 billion, and that the withdrawal reduces government revenue by $16.6 million annually and employment by 465 jobs,” according to Law 360.com.
The residual toxic waste from old uranium mines already threatens the Colorado River. In Moab, Utah, Atlas Minerals Corporation was allowed to declare bankruptcy and leave the cleanup of their uranium mill tailing waste dump to the taxpayers to clean up at a cost of more than one billion dollars. In yet another example of ongoing subsidies to the nuclear industry, the NRC had previously required a woefully inadequate decommissioning fund of $10 million to be set aside by Atlas Minerals for this monumental effort. If the NRC had properly established the true cleanup costs of Moab when the project started, the taxpayer would not have been stuck with the bill, and the people living near the area would not be exposed to ongoing radiation and toxic chemicals from the mining process.
This problem involves more than just the Colorado River. The Liz Rodgers film Hot Water, documents America’s toxic radioactive legacy from uranium mining sites throughout the west.
President Obama recently protected more than one million acres of federal land in California, Texas, and Nevada – it would be that easy to protect the Grand Canyon and its critical water source.
Take a look at Polish photographer Arkadiusz Podniesinski’s harrowing, post-apocalyptic pictures of Fukushima’s 12.5-mile Exclusion Zone. Obtaining special documentation that allowed him to enter the highly restricted area, Podniesinski photographed Fukushima’s Exclusion Zone in order to draw his own conclusions “without being influenced by any media sensation, government propaganda, or nuclear lobbyists who are trying to play down the effects of the disaster, and pass on the information obtained to as wider a public as possible,” he said.
From an eerie field of cars lost in a sea of overgrown grass and vines to a classroom left with a day’s lessons still written on the chalkboard, the abandoned radioactive hot spot is a silently living man-made disaster. Not a stranger to abandoned toxic towns; Podniesinski has also photographed the area around the 1986 Chernobyl nuclear meltdown.
How many more radioactive ghost towns will we see in this world before we take steps to protect ourselves?
Update- Vermont Yankee in the News:
During the past few weeks, the Fairewinds Crew has received a number of questions asking about Vermont Yankee decommissioning process. To keep you informed we are responding to some of those questions here:
Emergency Planning Zone:
In April, Fairewinds wrote-
The Nuclear Regulatory Commission was created to protect the public by regulating the nuclear industry. With Vermont Yankee’s spent fuel pool at capacity and storing the equivalent of 700 nuclear bombs worth of unshielded radioactive cesium, the NRC’s announcement that it will allow Entergy to eliminate Vermont Yankee’s Emergency Planning Zone by April 2016 is a complete disregard for the safety of Vermonters.
The permission granted by the NRC to Entergy means that as Entergy transfers the highly radioactive spent fuel from the fuel pool into dry cask storage, the Emergency Planning Zone would no longer exist. The NRC argues that the risk of a severe accident is reduced after 15.4 months of fuel cooling due to the closure of the reactor.
Reduced risk is not zero risk. The 2008 Vermont Yankee crane brake failure while Entergy was moving a cask full of spent fuel is a constant reminder that such failures do happen. Furthermore, leaks and radiation exposure is already known to occur during decommissioning, remember the Dresden Unit 1 in Illinois that suffered a spent fuel pool leak? Fairewinds’ report submitted to the NRC in March cites all of these failures as probable cause to follow federal statute by keeping the Emergency Planning Zone in place until all the spent fuel is completely secured in dry cask storage.
The Nuclear Regulatory Commission (NRC) does not acknowledge the radiation risk to the town of Vernon and the surrounding area emanating from Entergy Corp.’s Vermont Yankee (VY) nuclear plant post-shutdown, so the NRC granted Entergy an exemption from the legally mandated Emergency Planning Zone requirements throughout the entire 60-year decommissioning process. Pre-existing NRC regulations state, “a permanently shutdown and defueled reactor, such as VY, must continue to maintain the same EP [emergency planning] requirements as an operating power reactor under the existing regulatory requirements."
Currently, the NRC is working to change their own regulations, over stakeholder objections, and until these changes are finalized, the NRC allows plant-operating corporations like Entergy to simply apply for exemptions from this rule, which the NRC then automatically issues.
The state of Vermont has asserted that the NRC is no longer in compliance with the National Environmental Policy Act because it released its Environment Assessment (EA) draft after approving Entergy’s exemption and not before. The state of Vermont has also called the EA submitted by Entergy “deficient and inadequate…because they do not take a hard look at all the potential environmental impacts of the proposed action, which Vermont asserts could be significant and, thus, require evaluation through an environmental impact statement.”
Furthermore, the Berkshire Eagle News reminds readers that Vermonters have repeatedly called attention to the unique location of Vermont Yankee reactor adjacent to the Vernon elementary school. The NRC’s response to elementary student’s close proximity is as follows:
“This fact is immaterial because the NRC staff found that Entergy had provided reasonable assurance that (an accident) would not result in radiation exposure greater than or equal to 1 rem at the (Yankee) boundary and ... (w)ould be addressed in a timely manner."
It’s the NRC’s opinion that Vernon parents should rest easy knowing that their children’s toxic exposure levels lie in Entergy’s hands. Entergy has cut staff at VY, and the NRC has removed its resident inspectors from reviewing Entergy’s VY decommissioning process.
Wildlife along the Connecticut River:
Fairewinds Energy Education’s Arnie Gundersen and Beyond Nuclear’s Kevin Kamps sat down with CCTV host Margaret Harrington in January 2015 to discuss the economic, environmental, health and safety implications the December 2014 closing of the Vermont Yankee (VY) nuclear power plant is having on the Vernon and Brattleboro area, and throughout New England. One positive outcome of VY’s shutdown mentioned during the CCTV discussion is the end of thermal pollution from the reactor into the Connecticut River and the return of shad and other diminished wildlife.
Now shutdown since December 29, 2014, Vermont Yankee has not been draining millions of gallons of overheated water into the Connecticut River and the most recent shad run of 2015 saw numbers higher than they have been since the 1980s. Schools of American shad traditionally infiltrate the waters of the Connecticut River to spawn in early March and April. In recent decades, the formally abundant shad population had almost entirely disappeared. In order to reproduce Shad rely on thermal water temperatures that hover around 50ºF. The Vermont Yankee nuclear power plant, located along the Connecticut River in Vernon, Vermont when in operation was allowed to bypass its cooling tower system to dump up to 543 million gallons of overheated water into the Connecticut River each day. Vermont Yankee’s water discharges sometimes reached temperatures of up to 105 degrees Fahrenheit.
The eagle has landed! “After near-annihilation and a decades-long absence, bald eagles are back among us,” Yankee Magazine reports. Journalist Cindy Anderson spent an afternoon tracking eagles with New Hampshire Audubon’s senior biologist and preeminent raptor specialist Chris Martin to learn more about the bald eagle’s come-back from near extinction.
“The national bird,” says Martin, “is hardy and adaptable, a “generalist” that can live in a range of habitats and eat anything from fresh fish to days-old road kill. Bald eagles manage New England winters without trouble, and they have few predators apart from nest raiders like raccoons and fishers.”
So, what’s been threatening this majestic, strong creature? Humans.
In Hinsdale, NH, the location of Anderson and Martin’s eagle escapade is in direct proximity to the Vermont Yankee nuclear power plant. In the past year, as operations at the nuclear plant slowed down to its eventual shutdown, wildlife experts have counted more eagles in one day than they have been able to see during the past 30-years.