Nuclear Offline in Japan

As the US makes plans to build more nuclear power plants, Japan has found none of its existing nuclear facilities safe enough to operate.Public trust is lost… (Photo courtesy of The New Age.)

AP Business Writer

TOKYO (AP) – Thousands of Japanese marched to celebrate the switching off of the last of their nation’s 50 nuclear reactors Saturday, waving banners shaped as giant fish that have become a potent anti-nuclear symbol.

Japan was without electricity from nuclear power for the first time in four decades when the reactor at Tomari nuclear plant on the northern island of Hokkaido went offline for mandatory routine maintenance.

After last year’s March 11 quake and tsunami set off meltdowns at the Fukushima Dai-ichi plant, no reactor halted for checkups has been restarted amid public worries about the safety of nuclear technology.

This article from Japan Times,End to Crisis is Years, Fortune Away is worth reading for its relevance to nuclear problems the US has kicked down the road–

The Associated Press

Once Japan’s leaky nuclear complex stops spewing radiation and its reactors cool down, making the site safe and removing the ruined equipment is going to be a messy ordeal that could take decades and cost hundreds of millions of dollars.

Radiation has covered the area around the Fukushima No. 1 plant and blanketed parts of the complex, making the job of “decommissioning” the plant — rendering it safe so it doesn’t threaten public health and the environment — a bigger task than usual.

Toshiba Corp., which supplied four of Fukushima’s six reactors, including two on which General Electric Co. collaborated, submitted a road map this past week to the plant’s operator for decommissioning the crippled reactors. The study, done with three other companies, projects that it would take about 10 years to remove the fuel rods and the reactors and contain other radioactivity at the site, said Keisuke Omori of Toshiba.

Yamaguchi and Hutzler cite costs of decommissioning US plants like Vermont Yankee and Three Mile Island, which is still a toxic waste site that will require a vast investment of public funds to stabilize long-term.

We just passed the 26th anniversary of the Chernobyl disaster. A veteran photographer, Paul Fusco, who once worked for Look magazine, has created a photo essay from Russia. Link here to see it, but be warned, it’s enough to keep you up at night.

Chernobyl, Three Mile Island and countless nuclear sites less well known continue to menace future generations. We have no right to leave this mess for the sake of corporate profit and the promise of cheap energy never kept.

The answer? Prepare to spend a lot of money safely decommissioning existing nuclear power plants when their useful life is done, stop building more. When the real costs are added up it’s clear that the money is best invested in diverse, local and smart energy.

Japan’s Nuclear Crisis Continues

Immediately after the nuclear disaster at Fukushima, pundits were claiming it was a ‘success story’. That talking point vanished in the first days, and later ‘not as bad as Chernobyl’ began to lose ground.

If the accident were one tenth the severity, it would still emerge over time as a strong argument for abandoning nuclear power as an answer to our energy needs. Nuclear pollution doesn’t go away, and it concentrates in soil, water and food. Fukushima is not under control yet, as today’s news shows…

Another leak at the Fukushima No. 1 power plant has been pouring radioactive water filled with high amounts of cesium into the Pacific Ocean for an unknown period of time, but Tokyo Electric Power Co. was able to plug the leak.

Radioactive materials are also apparently penetrating the silt fence installed in the sea near the crippled plant, raising concern that a wider area of the Pacific may be contaminated.

Cesium-137, a byproduct of nuclear decay, is one of the bad ones. The talking point that ‘it’s only radioactive iodine, no big deal’ is on its way out.

‘No immediate risk’ may become a bitter joke before this is all over…

“This is an extremely serious problem,” Goshi Hosono, special adviser to Prime Minister Naoto Kan, told a news conference Wednesday attended by Tepco and government officials to explain their ongoing efforts to contain the nuclear crisis.

The Telegraph is describing the condition of the No.1 reactor as ‘a meltdown’.

There were six special advisers to Prime Minister Kan. One of them, Toshiso Tosako, resigned last month with tears in his eyes after the government decided to raise the acceptable exposure limit for schoolchildren in Fukushima.

Japan’s problems are the world’s problems. Partly because radioactive pollution doesn’t respect borders, and partly because the energy crisis and global warming are the world’s problems to solve.

Antinuclear activists in Japan will find support from Germany, where Chancellor Angela Merkel is out front in the clean energy race…

In mid-March, Merkel stunned the German public and other governments by announcing an accelerated phasing out of all 17 German nuclear reactors as an immediate reaction to the Fukushima disaster in Japan. The chancellor now says she wants to slash the use of coal, speed up approvals for renewable energy investments, and reduce CO2 emissions drastically. That means that the 81 million Germans living between the North Sea and the Alps are supposed to cover their huge energy needs from wind, solar, geothermal, and biomass within a few decades. Indeed, by 2030 green electricity could be the dominant source of power for German factories and households.

“We want to end the use of nuclear energy and reach the age of renewable energy as fast as possible,” Merkel said.

Japanese authorities have changed their plans to increase nuclear power, and will build up renewable sources.

Naoto Kan said Japan needs to “start from scratch” on its long-term energy policy after the Fukushima Dai-ichi nuclear power plant was heavily damaged by a March 11 earthquake and tsunami and began leaking radiation.

Nuclear plants supplied about 30 percent of Japan’s electricity, and the government had planned to raise that to 50 percent by 2030.

Kan told a news conference that nuclear and fossil fuel used to be the pillars of Japanese energy policy but now the government will add two more pillars: renewable energy such as solar, wind and biomass, and an increased focus on conservation.

This is the challenge for our century. America put a man on the moon. We’ve spent a long time listening to politicians who have nothing to offer but fear. We can turn around and start leading again, and join with other countries in researching and building safe, diverse and renewable energy solutions.

Japan– Uncontrolled News Leak

Thanks to Dem from CT on Daily Kos for this fine post about crowdsourcing vital news.

The idea that governments or companies or anyone gets to control information is sooo 20th century. Sure, plenty of things are secret (but ask the Wikileaks folks for how long) while/but plenty of things are out there for anyone enterprising enough to put the data together.

Does this replace health and disaster reporters and journalists? Not at all. It’s data for them to vet, just like it’s data for us to vet. Sometimes, it’ll be vetted by non-journalists with expertise in a particular area (and some of them, like Nate Silver and Glenn Greenwald, will move from blogger to pundit over time.)

Now, is the data on the internet always going to be right? No, but it will get corroborated and corrected. If it raises the right questions, it’s done its job. In fact, traditional journalism also makes errors (and sometimes sources are flat-out wrong), so the correction process is always a dynamic one.

Dem from CT linked to this site– Pachtube real time crowdsourced radiation maps.

Thank you to all the cranky people who have insisted for years that ‘experts’ should, as an ethical requirement, reveal who is paying them. That helps us put in perspective a reassuring analysis of the risks of nuclear power by a consultant to the nuclear industry.

Before the net, that was the only information we’d be able to get, other than the warnings of those folks waving signs outside the gates. I know, because we were hearing the exact same arguments thirty years ago, from experts paid by the nuclear industry.

Here in the US the Environmental Protection Agency says that 20 of 124 radiation monitors nationwide are out of service.

A Geiger Counter is not terribly expensive or hard to obtain, so maybe we’ll do some crowdsourcing here.

This morning’s Wall Street Journal reports danger, confusion, and some hope in the struggle to contain the disaster at the Fukushima Daiichi nuclear complex…

The water problems of the past four days underscore the complexities and uncertainties that continue to surround the repair effort, as workers, engineers and regulators are forced to confront new problems just as they seem to have solved old ones. Perhaps more unnerving than the specifics of the radioactive water is that it shows how unpredictable the repairs have become, and thus how hard it is for anybody to say with certainty how quickly or easily they can be completed.

Experts say the Japanese are moving in a prudent manner given the enormity of the task. As long as workers are able to keep the cores cool, the experts say, the nuclear material will continue to produce less heat naturally.

“Time is their friend,” said Alexander Sich, an associate professor at Franciscan University of Steubenville in Ohio. “The longer they wait, the cooler the cores get, the less stress on the system.”

The picture changes hour by hour. I hope they will soon have success in bringing the radiation under control. After that is a daunting clean-up job.

One leak I want to see continue is news from every source. Even as workers put themselves in harms way and people in Japan struggle to make sense of conflicting warnings, the industry is already minimizing the crisis and dismissing public concern as ignorance.

The big money, now as thirty years ago, is with the nuclear industry and its favored politicians. Unlike thirty years ago, we can do more than wave signs. Freedom of the press, they say, belongs to him who owns the press. For now, that freedom is enjoyed by countless small publishers, in Fukushima, in California, in Russia and Norway and Pennsylvania.

Radiation from Japan’s nuclear disaster has circled the globe several times, as has the news. Truth will win.

Situation Worsens in Japan

It’s a bad sign that it’s taking so long for Japan to get its nuclear reactors under control. From Reuters today…

(Reuters) – Highly radioactive water has been found at a second reactor at a crippled nuclear power station in Japan, the plant’s operator said, as fears of contamination escalated two weeks after a huge earthquake and tsunami battered the complex.

Underscoring growing international concern about nuclear power raised by the accident in northeast Japan, U.N. Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon said in a statement it was time to reassess the international nuclear safety regime.

Earlier, Japanese Prime Minister Naoto Kan, making his first public statement on the crisis in a week, said the situation at the Fukushima nuclear complex, 240 km (150 miles) north of Tokyo, was “nowhere near” being resolved.

Two workers are in a hospital with radiation burns, seventeen exposed. The best hope is that the immediate crisis is resolved soon. Assessing the damage will take time. Nuclear optimists insist there is no real danger from radiation, but the world is watching, and nuclear power will be a hard sell in the future.