Fukushima updates.

02 Dec

A few bits of information on Fukushima and nuclear power collected from around and about on the web.

1)  This 2 1/2 minute video is disturbing, to say the least.  (Never mind that the fishermen in the video are mostly concerned with the possibility of losing their fishing income; that is the normal human reaction these days – what is my bottom line?)

It appears that the ocean is not simply diluting and dispersing the radioactivity as expected; it is collecting on the sea floor and gradually working its way up the food chain.  Tuna, fished in waters 900 km from the Japanese shoreline, are already showing traces of cesium.

2)  From Washingtonsblog:

The radioactive half life of cesium 137 is usually 30 years. But scientists at the Savannah River National Laboratory say that the cesium at Chernobyl will persist in the environment between 5 and 10 times longer – between 180 and 320 years.

As Wired notes:  Cesium 137’s half-life — the time it takes for half of a given amount of material to decay — is 30 years. In addition to that, cesium-137’s total ecological half-life — the time for half the cesium to disappear from the local environment through processes such as migration, weathering, and removal by organisms is also typically 30 years or less, but the amount of cesium in soil near Chernobyl isn’t decreasing nearly that fast. And scientists don’t know why. It stands to reason that at some point the Ukrainian government would like to be able to use that land again, but the scientists have calculated that what they call cesium’s “ecological half-life” — the time for half the cesium to disappear from the local environment — is between 180 and 320 years. “Normally you’d say that every 30 years, it’s half as bad as it was. But it’s not,” said Tim Jannik, nuclear scientist at Savannah River National Laboratory and a collaborator on the work. “It’s going to be longer before they repopulate the area.”

The news may not bode well for Fukushima, although the reasons for the longevity of radioactive particles at Chernobyl is still a mystery. Of course, some radioactive elements emitted by nuclear accidents – such as plutonium – can cause harm for thousands of years.

As I noted in March:
Plutonium stays radioactive for a long time. Pu-238 has an 88-year half-life, Pu-239 has a 24,000-year half-life, and Pu-240 has a 6,500-year half life. Plutonium from Chernobyl has been discovered in Sweden and Poland. So plutonium might be heavier than other radioactive materials, but it is not so heavy that it can’t travel hundreds of miles in the right circumstances.

But cesium is much lighter, and can travel much further. And Chernobyl and Fukushima put out much higher quantities of cesium than plutonium (even with the explosions at Fukushima, which spewed plutonium over the surrounding area.)

3) Rawstory, today:

Molten nuclear fuel at Japan’s Fukushima plant might have eaten two thirds of the way through a concrete containment base, its operator said, citing a new simulation of the extent of the March disaster.

Tokyo Electric Power (TEPCO) said their latest calculations showed the fuel inside the No. 1 reactor at the tsunami-hit plant could have melted entirely, dropping through its inner casing and eroding a concrete base. In the worst-case scenario, the molten fuel could have reached as far as 65 centimetres (2 feet) through the concrete, leaving it only 37  centimetres short of the outer steel casing, the report, released Wednesday, said. …

4) Interview with Fukushima architect, 17 Nov. (translated from original Japanese).

Architect of Fukushima Daiichi Reactor 3, Uehara Haruo, the former president of Saga University had an interview on 11/17/2011.

In this interview, he admitted Tepco’s explanation does not make sense, and that the China syndrome is inevitable. He stated that considering 8 months have passed since 311 without any improvement, it is inevitable that melted fuel went out of the container vessel and sank underground, which is called China syndrome. He added, if fuel has reaches a underground water vein, it will cause contamination of underground water, soil contamination and sea contamination.

Moreover, if the underground water vein keeps being heated for long time, a massive hydrovolcanic explosion will be caused. He also warned radioactive debris is spreading in Pacific Ocean. Tons of the debris has reached the Marshall Islands as of 11/15/2011.

5) 21 Oct.

…TEPCO intentionally dumped radioactive materials into the ocean, as they had no additional room for storage, the levels showed no signs of decreasing, and all desalination hopes were falling woefully short.  It would also be found that many leaks around, and inside of the reactors were also finding their way into the Pacific, but the public was told that there would not be any risk to them, or the living  creatures in the sea. After 7 months however, impact can be found all over the island nation, and spreading throughout the ocean, despite the expectations it would merely be diluted exponentially.

In September, scientists from the government’s Meteorological Research Institute and the Central Research Institute of the Electric Power Industry announced their findings at a meeting of the Geochemical Society of Japan, adding that some of the cesium will also flow into the Indian Ocean and, eventually, reach the Atlantic.
The researchers believed that the cesium had initially dispersed into the Pacific from the coast of Fukushima Prefecture but would be taken to the southwest by the prevailing currents at a depth of around 1,300 feet.
Researchers thought it would take years to reach the islands. But now, according to a University of Hawaii researchers, the debris will arrive sooner than expected…

6) Of passing interest and mild irritation, David Axelrod used to work as a consultant to Exelon, a nuclear power company.

Since coming to office, Obama has spearheaded the nuclear industry’s revival in the U.S., championing it as a “safe, clean, and reliable” alternative to foreign oil. But as Normon Solomon pointed out, “There is no more techno-advanced country in the world than Japan. Nuclear power is not safe there, and it is not safe anywhere,” (, 3/14/11).

The NY Times pointed out that, “most of the nuclear plants in the United States share some or all of the risk factors that played a role at Fukushima Daiichi: locations on tsunami-prone coastlines or near earthquake faults, aging plants and backup electrical systems that rely on diesel generators and batteries that could fail in extreme circumstances,” (3/14/11).

In February, Obama awarded $8.3 billion in federal loans to build the first new reactors in the U.S. since the Three Mile Island disaster more than thirty years ago. Obama claimed this was a necessary concession in order to ensure Republican backing of a new energy bill. However, Obama and a whole slew of Democrats have consistently supported nuclear power.

One of Obama’s largest campaign donors since 2003 has been the Exelon Corporation, a nuclear power company. Obama’s former chief of staff, David Axelrod, previously worked as a consultant for Exelon. As a state Senator in Illinois, Obama skillfully played both sides of the nuclear debate, but ultimately did the industry’s political dirty work after a leak at an Exelon plant was exposed, causing public outrage. Obama put forward a bill requiring leaks to be immediately reported, but then worked hand-in-hand with Exelon to strip the bill of any teeth, (NY Times, 2/3/08).

Nuclear power is not only dangerous. It is expensive, requiring massive taxpayer-funded loans because investors cannot make a profit otherwise. Obama’s loans came from a 2005 Bush administration bill that set aside more than $18 billion for nuclear construction. Furthermore, Obama has called for tripling that amount to more than $54 billion (NY Times, 2/16/11), and some Republicans are proposing to build as many as 200 new reactors in the coming years.

Rather than putting $54 billion toward nuclear power, this money should go toward a massive program to develop solar, wind, and tidal power, providing hundreds of thousands of jobs in the process. According to an article published in the magazine Scientific American, it is possible to completely transition the world’s energy supply to green sources by 2030, (10/26/09). The key thing standing in the way of this needed plan is our current system of capitalism, where the needs for profit of the few trump the broader needs of the people and the environment, and where corporate interests dominate the two-party system.

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Posted by on December 2, 2011 in environment, fukushima


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