What's life like after nuclear disaster?

Chris Bohjalian
 What if a nuclear disaster destroyed your life?

 It would not take an atomic bomb laced with lethal doses of radiation to contaminate your homeland, and cause such chaos. When nuclear power plants fail and nuclear reactors experience leaks, explosions, and overheat, radiation is carried by the wind and contamination and chaos ensue. Since Three Mile Island in Pennsylvania, Chernobyl in the Ukraine, and now the Fukushima Daiichi triple meltdown in Japan the lives of thousands of innocent people have been turned upside down and destroyed due to nuclear power risks becoming reality.

In the latest video feature from Fairewinds Energy Education entitled: What's life after nuclear disaster? , Fairewinds’ President Maggie Gundersen and award winning Vermont author Chris Bohjalian, discuss what life would be like if a nuclear meltdown occurred at a nuclear power plant in Vermont.  In his most recent novel, Close Your Eyes and Hold Hands, Chris uses Vermont as the scene of a nuclear meltdown as seen through the eyes and experiences of 16-year old Emily Shepard, who is orphaned by the catastrophe, Bohjalian’s readers are drawn into the hardships and uncertainty that accompany a nuclear tragedy. With a haunting reality, Bohjalian creates images for his readers of the life currently being lived by the victims of Japan’s Fukushima Daiichi triple meltdown, and previously experienced by the victims of the meltdowns at Chernobyl and Three Mile Island. 

Book of the Month:

Close Your Eyes and Hold Hands

Close Your Eyes and Hold Hands by Chris Bohjalian

Fairewinds Acknowledgement:

I want to begin by thanking … people whose work is dramatically more important than anything I do…. There is the leadership team at Fairewinds energy education, Arnie and Maggie Gundersen. Arnie was an atomic energy commission fellow and a licensed reactor operator who, as a senior vice president, managed or coordinated projects at 70 nuclear power plants across America. Maggie worked in public information and executive recruitment in the nuclear power industry. Today, through Fairewinds, they strive to educate the public and legislative tors about the realities of nuclear power and the issues with aging plants around the world. They volunteered enormous amounts of their time to teach me about the dangers of nuclear power, how plant works, and what Emily’s father’s life might have been like. I am encourage you to visit the Fairewinds website, where you can learn more about nuclear power and finding extensive bibliography.

Brief Summary:

Washington PostSt. Louis Post-Dispatch, and Milwaukee Journal Sentinel Best Book of the Year 
Emily Shepard is on the run; the nuclear plant where her father worked has suffered a cataclysmic meltdown, and all fingers point to him. Now, orphaned, homeless, and certain that she's a pariah, Emily's taken to hiding out on the frigid streets of Burlington, Vermont, creating a new identity inspired by her favorite poet, Emily Dickinson. 
Then she meets Cameron. Nine years old and with a string of foster families behind him, he sparks something in Emily, and she protects him with a fierceness she did not know she possessed. But when an emergency threatens the fledgling home she's created, Emily realizes that she can't hide forever.


What Unidentified Flying Drone
By Sue Prent

 Never known for its candor, the Nuclear Regulatory Commission (NRC) has actually been caught by Fairewinds in the act of burying an incident record that it had not meant to share publicly.

 On Thursday, May 15, an unidentified drone or ultra-light airplane took a leisurely flight over the Interim Spent Fuel Storage Installation (ISFSI) at Maine Yankee, a decommissioned nuclear power plant that still hosts its own purgatory of highly radioactive spent nuclear fuel.

 When the incident showed up among the NRC’s event reports on Monday May 18, it was intercepted by some observant folks at Fairewinds, and a link was shared over social media. 

 Clicking on the NRC link later that same day revealed that the NRC had removed the report from its site, but those clever early interceptors had already captured and saved the text for all to see.

 This act by the NRC leaves us with more than one burning question that begs an answer.

  •  Why didn’t the NRC want the public to know that this drone fly-over had occurred?
  •  How often in the past might the NRC have suppressed information about other incidents?
  • Why were no measures in place to prevent such a fly-over, when airborne access clearly has the potential for malfeasance?

 The first two questions go to the NRC’s long history of serving two masters, rather than just the public interest.  All too frequently, the interests of the industry have been allowed to trump those of the public.

 In this case, sharing the incident with the public would have inevitably raised doubt about the prudence of the NRC’s current policy of allowing nuclear plant owners to dramatically reduce security measures once their reactors have been permanently shut down.

 Maine Yankee exists in that post decommissioning never-never land where it still has a robust amount of highly radioactive material stacked on site in concrete casks, like so many lethal Christmas crackers. 

 Despite the fact that the casks were never designed for indefinite storage and even the near-term integrity of the concrete is very much in question, Maine Yankee like other inactive nuclear facilities is not required by the NRC to maintain an emergency plan for the safety of the surrounding population should a breach occur, or even a full-on attack.

 The pads on which the casks rest are completely exposed to view where they might easily be identified as a “terrorist target”, should hostile operatives be inclined to crash a plane into them in order to release radioactive matter as a “dirty bomb.”

 That an unidentified drone was able to doodle around above the SFSI at Maine Yankee says volumes about the vulnerability of this arrangement.

 That the Nuclear Regulatory Agency snatched the report from public view says volumes about the NRC itself, and how committed it is to protecting the interests of the nuclear industry. 

 Apparently the NRC prefers that we not have the opportunity to go to that dark place in our minds where we imagine what would happen if weaponized drones visited American nuclear sites. 

Nuclear News:

France aims to reduce dependency on nuclear power to 50 percent by 2025 with its passage May 26, 2015 of a National Assembly bill to boost renewable energy. Currently, France’s nuclear power usage is 75%, more than any other nation.  The new bill aims for a France to develop 40% more renewable energy by 2025 as it reduces its nuclear power dependency from 75% to 50%.

Thousands of people have been living in temporary housing in Japan since the massive March 2011 earthquake and tsunami hit the Fukushima prefecture coast resulting in a triple meltdown at the Fukushima Daiichi reactor site.  Now Prime Minister Shinzo Abe’s political coalition has created a draft proposal calling for the end of evacuation orders within two years without any scientific rationale.  Most of the evacuees were forced to leave their homes more than four years ago during the nuclear catastrophe.  With no scientific analysis behind the target date of “within two years”, the proposal offers to allow thousands of Japanese to return to their radiation contaminated homes, rather than focusing on the need for billions of dollars to be added to the actual remediation.  In fact, the article notes that Abe’s party is pushing for local governments within the nuclear disaster zone of Fukushima to shoulder more of the financial burden of reconstruction that has fallen on Japan’s central government. Furthermore, this proposal is meant to form the basis for the Abe government reconstruction policies.

Despite a “differing professional opinion” written by an NRC inspector at the Diablo Canyon nuclear power plant, the Nuclear Regulatory Commission Office of Public Affairs has written a letter to the “readers of The Malibu Times” attempting to assure the public that the highly controversial nuclear power plant is capable of operating safely.  Stating that “the NRC’s Executive Director for Operations determined Diablo Canyon remains within its approved design and licensing basis,” the NRC has neglected to acknowledge that fault lines were discovered offshore after Diablo Canyon was built and rather than tear the plant down and start fresh, Diablo Canyon owner Pacific Gas and Electric was allowed to tweak its analysis and continue with unencumbered plant operations.  To learn more about seismic and other safety risks surrounding Diablo Canyon please watch the Fairewinds video, “Whose Fault?”

 Travel along with a group of Americans to Samso, an island off the coast of Denmark that obtained green-energy independence in 2005 by developing a combination of wind and solar (for electricity) and geothermal and plant-based energy (for heating).  According to the New York Times, the Samso Energy Academy, started by Soren Hermansen, and his wife, Malene Lunden, worked for years to develop the island’s green-energy program that now generates surplus power that Samso is able to sell to mainland Denmark for a profit.  Samso Energy Academy strives to spread the island’s story of energy success as it teaches its renewable energy methods to international visitors.

 The Asahi Shimbun editorial Radioactive waste disposal a challenge without end?, alerts the public to the  Japanese government policy change in its disposal of radioactive waste.  Originally an invitation-based approach, where local governments could offer to host a disposal site, the Japanese central government is now moving forward with waste abandonment by picking and choosing candidate sites without approval by the general public or local governments. Public trust in the safe operation of nuclear power plants has dissolved since the March 2011 triple meltdowns at Fukushima Daiichi.  While the government faces ongoing radiation releases and astronomical costs for the clean up of this major nuclear disaster, it continues to push the public to accept nuclear electric production.  

Noting “Japan’s nuclear power generation system, which lacks a plan for final disposal of its radioactive by-products, has been lampooned as a “condominium without a toilet”, the editorial emphasized that, “The only way to prevent an increase in nuclear waste is to initiate a policy of phasing out nuclear power generation. Otherwise, the program will require an expansion of waste disposal facilities.”  


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