Rethinking Nuclear Technology at Fukushima’s Tenth Year …and Counting
“I feel that we got the final wake-up call at Fukushima and that we need to phase out and shut down the 104 reactors in America. I will put it very bluntly: We need to kill them before they kill us.” – The late S. David Freeman (1926-2020) who shut down many reactors in his time as CEO at multiple utilities. EON interview, 2012
by Mary Beth Brangan & James Heddle – EON
Radioactive plumes of airborne particles and gases swept across the globe within days in addition to millions of curies dumped into the Pacific ocean. A decade later, tons of DNA-damaging radioactive pollution are still spewing daily into the planetary biosphere and lethal contamination is compounding..
For us, it was a shrill wake-up alarm and an urgent call to action to come to the defense of the genetic heritage of all life forms and all future human generations before it’s too late.
Here in California, like at Fukushima Daiichi, we have two nuclear generating stations, Diablo Canyon and San Onofre along the coast surrounded by earthquake faults and in tsunami zones.
Opposing Mindsets Rethink Nuclear Energy
Though March 11, 2011 was a wake-up call to action for us and many others, for nuclear true-believers, it was an irritating inconvenience, a mere bump in the road on the way to their nuclear nirvana dream of so-called ‘clean, carbon-free’ energy.
Actually, nuclear power is neither clean nor carbon free and in fact emits huge amounts of carbon pollution in all energy consumptive stages of the nuclear cycle from mining to the endless job of waste management, as well as radioactive Carbon 14 during operation.
It’s worth reminding ourselves why radioactivity is so dangerous. Hundreds of different radioactive waves, particles, isotopes and gases result from splitting the uranium atom during nuclear fission. These last from seconds to millions of years. Radioactivity is highly corrosive and is extremely difficult to contain. Everything that certain types of radioactive particles touch becomes itself radioactive. Once put into containers, regular re-containerizing or repackaging is necessary to prevent leakage into the environment.
Tritium, a radioactive isotope of hydrogen, the most invasive of radionuclides, is taken up in all biological organs and systems like hydrogen and is absolutely impossible to defend against. Huge amounts of tritium are produced during nuclear power generation and even emit from the irradiated cement long after reactors shut down. All radioactive elements can damage cells and can cause disease, immune system dysfunction, hormonal dysfunction, blood disorders, mutations, cancer, miscarriage, organ failure and genetic defects passed down through generations, if fertility itself survives. Embryos, little girls and women are twice as affected. Also little boys are more susceptible. Radioactivity affects all living creatures, trees, plants, insects, birds, aquatic life.
Nuclear technology, believers say, will save the world from climate change. Yet even if the DNA risks and the fact that no technology exists for responsibly managing waste that’s deadly for eons are ignored, nuclear expert Arnie Gundersen explains that the time needed to build nuclear plants plus the enormous cost prohibits any meaningful contribution to immediately impending climate change.
Now nuclear true believers are pushing small reactors that would rocket our way to other planets, powering our capitalism extraction and enclosure culture into deep space and providing military advantage. The Star Trek series that seeded the public’s appetite for spacefaring – “Where none had dared to go before” aptly named its Starship the USS Enterprise.
As Bruce Gagnon, coordinator of the Global Network Against Weapons and Nuclear Power in Space, puts it in this article by Karl Grossman: “The nuclear industry views space as a new—and wide-open—market for their toxic product that has run its dirty course on Mother Earth.”
Yet safety again is being ignored. In 1964 plutonium was scattered across the planet by a disintegrating U.S. satellite. Plutonium is known as the most toxic substance since so little is needed to cause a cancer. One in 100 rocket launches explodes.
Will our species learn it cannot make ANY mistakes with this lethal technology
in time to save the planet? Will it realize that mistakes are inevitable and must mean the
end of the nuclear industrial complex, except for the millions of years required to protect the biosphere by sequestering the corrosive waste?
Although temporarily bumped from general public awareness by the Covid/Great Reset crisis, the war between those two opposing mindsets is continuing apace. The signs are currently everywhere for those with the attention span and intellectual bandwidth to notice.
“Nothing Will Ever Go Wrong” vs Deadly and Eternal Consequences
Minding the Gap
TEPCO’s ongoing disaster at Fukushima Daiichi illustrates the expensive, deadly and eternal consequences of a lax safety culture of industry believers who have convinced themselves that nothing will ever go wrong.
Even after debacles like the meltdowns at Three Mile Island, Santa Susana, Chernobyl and Fukushima, and exploding rockets that spread deadly plutonium across the planet, nuclear advocates still obliviously promote their wares to governments addicted to the destructive power of splitting the atom for power and profit. Bill Gates: Nuclear power will ‘absolutely’ be politically acceptable again — it’s safer than oil, coal, natural gas. Gates has put his investment money where his mouth is.
In the ten years since Fukushima, the gap between these two mindsets has continued to widen to the point where it is now a gaping chasm between two irreconcilable agendas in deadly existential struggle.
Contamination is for Millennia – Decontamination is Impossible
According to reports from Greenpeace, Fairewinds and others, the situation in Northern Japan remains risky from radioactivity. Despite years of decontamination efforts and scraping millions of tons of radioactive topsoil into plastic bags, upland forest areas constantly re-contaminate the scraped grounds below after rain and snow storms. Micro-particles of radioactive cesium recycle continuously through forest ecosystems. Intensely radioactive particles in addition to cesium are found hundreds of miles away constantly blown by the wind. Inhaling as well as ingesting these particles through food and water cause the most harm.
Denying Human Rights to Residents
However, the Japanese government continues to coerce evacuated residents who fled the lethal radiation to return to the still contaminated land. Approximately 160,000 people were forced to relocate ten years ago. Of those, only a small percentage have returned, mainly elders since evacuees know radioactivity is most dangerous to women, embryos and children. A New York Times photo essay on Japan’s “eerie landscapes” give the lie to the official myth of “recovery.”
The refugees are discriminated against, seen as social burdens and consequently suffer extreme family tensions and health effects. They are afraid of being forgotten, neglected by the government and resented by those who don’t want to remember.
Thomas Bass writes in Bulletin of Atomic Scientists: “refugees from Fukushima are scorned in other parts of Japan, and the Asahi Shimbun reported “widespread bullying and stigmatization of evacuees.” This finding was echoed by the UK newspaper The Independent, which said that “discrimination suffered by evacuee pupils [is] likened to that faced by those who lived through the atom bomb blasts of the Second World War.”
“Women from Fukushima are shunned as marriage partners, and a new kind of Fukushima divorce has emerged, with men returning to the area in greater numbers than their wives, who want to keep their children as far away as possible.”
Many Fukushima victims traveled here to the U.S. to warn people about nuclear power and what had happened to them. We were blessed to have met and interviewed many of them, hearing their heartbreaking stories, including Setsuko’s below.
Japanese activist Setsuko Kida – who lost her home, her land, and her former life to radioactive pollution from the Fukushima triple meltdown – tells how she overcame personal tragedy and trauma to become an outspoken international advocate for radiation refugee rights.
In the first years after the meltdowns, there were preliminary reports listing hundreds of subsequent thyroid cancers in children exposed to the fallout in the region surrounding Fukushima Daiichi, twenty times the expected normal rate. The official final report called the cancer rates due to over-diagnosis, but outraged parents and critics charged the government with a cover-up.
And now, a recent report from the United Nations Scientific Committee on Atomic Radiation (UNSCEAR) claims that “there are no observed ill health effects from the accident.” That conclusion contradicts the evidence even given within the report, says expert Ian Fairlie.
It appears that the report was rushed out to counter the focus on the 10th anniversary. How unsurprising.
Fukushima Continually Contaminates the Pacific Ocean
Estimates are that every day for the past ten years, at least 300 tons of radioactive water pours into the Pacific ocean from the Fukushima plant. This radioactivity concentrates in fish and seaweed and has been measured in fish and water along the coast of North America. Airborne radioactive particles from the disaster were detected within days of the disaster across the U.S. and as far as Europe. Within months it was measured in the southern hemisphere. A nuclear disaster anywhere spreads everywhere across the planet.
Realities of Fukushima Daiichi’s Ongoing Disaster
TEPCO is the operator of the Fukushima Daiichi (# one) plant. Immediately after the tsunami destroyed the plant’s electricity there was incredible heroism by the plant manager and other individuals who bravely sacrificed themselves to prevent the disaster from being even worse. However, before the earthquake upper management of TEPCO had ignored reports warning about severe earthquakes and potential tsunami heights based on historical records and failed to provide reliable backup pumps high enough to withstand flooding, among other neglected safety precautions.
As Thomas Bass reports, “Four thousand people continue to labor daily to contain the ongoing disaster at F1. They pump cooling water into reactor cores and fuel pools, while struggling to keep the damaged buildings from collapsing. More than a billion liters of contaminated water—the equivalent of 480 Olympic-sized swimming pools—are stored on-site in rusting tanks.
“Claiming that it has run out of storage room, TEPCO is planning to release this water directly into the ocean. For years, TEPCO maintained that the water stored at F1 had been scrubbed of radioactivity, save for tritium, a water-soluble isotope that is said to be relatively safe. (not true – eds.) In 2014, TEPCO was forced to admit that its cleaning process had failed, and Fukushima’s cooling water is actually contaminated with high levels of strontium-90 and other radioactive elements.
“From the day it opened, Fukushima Daiichi struggled to contain the groundwater that rushed down from the nearby mountains and flowed through the plant. Fukushima today is a swamp of groundwater and cooling water contaminated with strontium, tritium, cesium, and other radioactive particles. Engineers have laced the site with ditches, dams, sump pumps, and drains.”
The Fukushima Daiichi seaside vulnerability is mirrored across the Pacific at southern California’s San Onofre nuclear generating station. Though San Onofre is now shut down, residents are anxious about the effects of potential flooding on the tons of high level radioactive waste stored in thin, easily corroded stainless steel canisters only 100 ft. from the rapidly rising ocean. Experts predict increasing storm surges due to climate change and 83% chance of major flooding in the next decade. This location has also experienced tsunamis in the past. The Nuclear Regulatory Commission, NRC, operator Southern California Edison and contractor Holtec, say there is “no credible” scenario to have leakage from the canisters.
Let’s put it here. Let’s put it there. No. We don’t want it anywhere!
Even after shutdown, nuclear power facilities continue to pose serious public safety and environmental risks deep into an unforeseeable future. Japan shut down 50 of its nuclear plants after Fukushima. 41 of those plants still remain shuttered, but the problem of what to do with their accumulated tons of highly radioactive fuel rods remains. The New York Times reports that the quest for ‘consensus based’ local storage dumps to take the waste voluntarily has yielded only two takers, and at least one, the issue is so contentious that the mayor’s house was firebombed.
The U.S. radioactive waste conundrum
This is a hugely troublesome issue now forcefully coming to the fore in the U.S. and other erstwhile nuclear powered countries. It is a conundrum highly unlikely to be solved by any of the ‘advanced nuclear technologies’ being touted by speculative investors like Bill Gates and their true believer policy-maker allies in the Biden administration.
Amidst the rapidly eroding U.S. nuclear regulatory system that completely ignores citizen’s legal objections, the U.S. nuclear power industry and Congressional allies are aiming a huge flow of lethally toxic radioactive waste towards an area in southeast New Mexico and adjacent west Texas. In addition to the weapons’ industry waste going to WIPP in nearby Carlsbad, NM, the plan is to truck, rail and barge the high level radioactive waste from nuclear plants across the country to the largely Hispanic populated region near Eunice, New Mexico. Neither state’s governor wants it nor do New Mexico and Texas residents.
Proponents of the plan call it ‘Consolidated Interim Storage, (CIS),’ arguing that a couple of concentrated waste sites are better than having it onsite at the many closing power plants. Reactor communities are divided, with some wanting to just get the waste out, no matter where and those who don’t want to impose the poison on anyone else, especially minorities who don’t consent, are already suffering from radioactive exposures and who didn’t even benefit from the electricity it produced.
The proposal would additionally entail huge risks of accidents and leakage during the decades long transportation of at least 10,000 shipments through cities, farmland and over waters.
The late award-winning muralist Noel Marquez worked against this racist plan with his art and soul.
Triple Meltdown Contamination, Decay and Waste Water Getting Worse
The Japanese nuclear establishment, in close cooperation with the government wants to continue to operate their fleet of nuclear power plants, despite Japan’s frequent earthquakes and tsunamis. Just last month on February 14, a 7.3 magnitude earthquake caused the intensely radioactive water in the Fukushima tanks to slosh, 53 tanks actually moved centimeters and operator TEPCO admits to at least one leak. Underground fissures may have resulted since the water levels dropped suddenly in the reactor cooling areas.
Natural events such as this continually occur and further complicate the already impossibly complex challenge to gain control over the ongoing meltdowns, damaged buildings and radioactive waste. The melting fuel from units 1 and 2 emit so much radioactivity that human inspection is impossible and attempts to inspect by robots are failing from the radiation destroying their electronics.
See No Evil – Contaminated Olympics
The government response to the radioactive contamination is to pretend it doesn’t pose a hazard at the currently high levels. It encourages nuclear amnesia to rebuild the economy of Japan and of the area, which before the disaster was a prime growing region famous for its peaches, organic produce and fish.
In fact, the government still intends to host components of the summer Olympics, originally scheduled for 2020 in radioactively contaminated areas! Concerns have long been raised by people in Japan and around the world but they’ve been ignored.
Now, however, due to the covid pandemic scare, Japan has decided to bar foreign spectators from this summer’s Tokyo Olympics, the Kyodo news agency said this week, citing government officials. The decision, which hadn’t been publicly confirmed by Japanese officials, comes after weeks of mounting pressure from a public worried about visitors who could carry the coronavirus into the country, including some highly-contagious new variants.
Yet Olympic athletes’ potential exposure to radioactive particles from the ongoing Fukushima disaster is still officially being ignored.
Ex-Prime Ministers Kan, Koizumi urge Japan to quit nuclear power
Former prime ministers Naoto Kan and Junichiro Koizumi on Monday urged Japan to stop using nuclear power, saying the country should learn from the Fukushima crisis a decade ago and turn to renewable energy.
Both were proponents of nuclear power while in office but became critics following the March 11, 2011, earthquake, tsunami and subsequent triple meltdown at the Fukushima Daiichi nuclear plant.
Lessons Learned Report from top Japanese and U.S. experts
“10 years after Fukushima, safety is still nuclear power’s greatest challenge.”
From the report: “We are scholars specializing in engineering and medicine and public policy, and have advised our respective governments on nuclear power safety. Kiyoshi Kurokawa chaired an independent national commission, known as the NAIIC, created by the Diet of Japan to investigate the root causes of the Fukushima Daiichi accident. Najmedin Meshkati served as a member and technical adviser to a committee appointed by the U.S. National Academy of Sciences to identify lessons from this event for making U.S. nuclear plants safer and more secure.
“Those reviews and many others concluded that Fukushima was a man-made accident, triggered by natural hazards, that could and should have been avoided. Experts widely agreed that the root causes were lax regulatory oversight in Japan and an ineffective safety culture at the utility that operated the plant.
“These problems are far from unique to Japan. As long as commercial nuclear power plants operate anywhere in the world, we believe it is critical for all nations to learn from what happened at Fukushima and continue doubling down on nuclear safety. “
TEPCO melted down – nearby Tohoku Electric Power Co. safely shut down!
“For its part, plant operator Tokyo Electric Power Company, or TEPCO, had a history of disregard for safety. The company had recently released an error-prone assessment of tsunami hazards at Fukushima that significantly underestimated the risks.
“Events at the Onagawa Nuclear Power Station, located 39 miles (64 kilometers) from Fukushima, told a contrasting story. Onogawa, which was owned and operated by the Tohoku Electric Power Company, was closer to the earthquake’s epicenter and was hit by an even larger tsunami. Its three operating reactors were the same type and vintage as those at Fukushima, and were under the same weak regulatory oversight.
“But Onogawa shut down safely and was remarkably undamaged. In our view, this was because the Tohoku utility had a deep-seated, proactive safety culture. The company learned from earthquakes and tsunamis elsewhere – including a major disaster in Chile in 2010 – and continuously improved its countermeasures, while TEPCO overlooked and ignored these warnings. “
Regulatory capture and safety culture
“When a regulated industry manages to cajole, control or manipulate agencies that oversee it, rendering them feckless and subservient, the result is known as regulatory capture. As the NAIIC report concluded, Fukushima was a textbook example. Japanese regulators “did not monitor or supervise nuclear safety…. They avoided their direct responsibilities by letting operators apply regulations on a voluntary basis,” the report observed.
“Effective regulation is necessary for nuclear safety. Utilities also need to create internal safety cultures – a set of characteristics and attitudes that make safety issues an overriding priority. For an industry, safety culture functions like the human body’s immune system, protecting it against pathogens and fending off diseases.
“…We see worrisome indications in the U.S. that independent nuclear regulation is eroding, and that nuclear utilities are resisting pressure to learn and delaying adoption of internationally accepted safety practices, such as adding filters to prevent radioactive releases from reactor containment buildings with the same characteristics as Fukushima Daiichi.”
Concerned residents challenge our criminally lax Nuclear Regulatory Agency
San Onofre Updates at the NRC
As noted in the report above, the situation of eroding nuclear regulation in the US is growing more extreme. Recently, the NRC had two encounters with incensed informed citizens as they attempted to hold NRC’s feet to the fire.
Both SanOnofreSafety.org and PublicWatchdogs.org made presentations to the NRC on the dangerous situation at San Onofre.
The NRC video archive is hard to access, so, as a public service, we have posted brief excepts of their important presentations on our YouTube channel to help increase public awareness of the serious issues they raise.
Donna Gilmore, founder of SanOnofreSafety.org, was asked to address the Commissioners regarding the contentious issues surrounding the dry storage methods currently in use for high level radioactive waste that will remain lethal more than a million years. These issues at San Onofre nuclear power station are being faced by all the approximately 100 U.S. reactor communities. People all over the country are clamoring for the best possible technology yet the contractors hired by the utilities are using the least safe methods.
Currently there are an estimated 3,000 canisters in use that are 5/8ths inch thick and licensed to last for twenty years. They are welded shut preventing inspection of the radioactive fuel rods inside and have no pressure valves though being pressure vessels. Data from NRC reports show stress corrosion cracking initiated by various means can penetrate through the thin stainless steel used in the canisters. Cracked canisters pose risk of exposing oxygen to the radioactive fuel inside and could cause release of the intense radioactivity and possibly even hydrogen explosions.
Donna and many people across the US are now demanding the utilities follow the lead of the Swiss who have the current state of the art interim storage.
And actually the lead of TEPCO, who did do something right. Their high level radioactive waste was kept in thick casks in a building on higher ground and all the casks survived both the earthquake and the tsunami.
The Swiss have built large dry cells that are sealed environments to enable robots to manipulate the intensely radioactive fuel rods. An unshielded person standing within 3 ft can get a lethal dose of radiation within minutes. These dry cells are the only way hot radioactive fuel can be dealt with for any needed manipulation.
There are none big enough in the U.S. and therefore there is no way to deal with damaged rods requiring repackaging for cracking thin canisters. Ideally, every site with
high level radioactive waste should have a way to repackage the fuel. Both for repair and for moving, if it ever needs to be moved, like San Onofre’s situation where it’s too close to the water’s edge.
The Swiss also use thick walled bolted double lidded casks that can be monitored and repaired. Reinforced buildings are used in Switzerland to house their 10 to 19 inch thick casks that can be protected against corrosion, weather extremes, terrorists, etc.
At the meeting, NRC staff contradicted their own documented data. They denied that the canisters were pressure vessels and said that any further precautions were unnecessary.
Donna Gilmore Briefs the NRC
Nuclear Waste Storage and Transport
In an indication of the effectiveness of her years of work, Donna Gilmore was invited to give a 10-minute presentation at a February virtual meeting February 11, 2021 together with industry executives and NRC officials.
NRC Archive Link to full meeting:
Discussion of NRC’s Regulatory Framework for Dry Cask Storage and Transportation of Spent Nuclear Fuel and Related Research Activities
The agenda included:
Wayne Norton, President and CEO, Yankee Atomic Electric Company
Randy Stark, Director of the Fuels, High Level Waste and Chemistry, Electric Power Research Institute
Roger Maggi, Chief Commercial Officer, Orano TN
Dr. Kris Singh, President and Chief Executive Officer, Holtec International
Donna Gilmore, Founder, SanOnofreSafety.org
Dr. David Victor, Chairman, San Onofre Community Engagement Panel
Credible Risks at San Onofre – Charles Langley
“No Credible Risks” – Oh, Really?
A “Risk-Informed” – and risk averse – NRC gets forcibly informed about the very credible risks at Southern California Edison’s San Onofre nuclear waste dump-by-the-sea that it and the industry that has captured it are trying very hard to deny.
This is Public Watchdogs Executive Director Charles Langley’s presentation to the NRC’s Petition Review Board in a virtual meeting March 9, 2021.
It’s an excerpt clip from a two hour webcast in which Langley and his colleagues Paul Blanch and Stuart Scott of FacingFuture.TV challenged the NRC and Holtec claim that radioactive waste canisters buried on the beach at San Onofre in an earthquake and tsunami zone ‘pose no credible threat’ to public and environmental safety.
These are the same 5/8 inch thin steel canisters being used by other Holtec customers at reactor sites around the country.