Nuclear Power Media Articles
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This month, the Department of Energy announced that a tank at the Hanford Nuclear Reservation in Washington state is leaking up to 300 gallons of radioactive waste a year. Nuclear sludge left over from Cold War plutonium production is drip-drip-dripping into American soil, infiltrating the groundwater, slowly making its way into our rivers. The leak is just another in a long line of mild disasters at Americas most contaminated nuclear-waste site, a radioactive drop in the already-polluted Columbia River. Hanford is the worst kind of mess: the kind that humanity is capable of making, but not capable of cleaning up. It was the home of the worlds first full-scale plutonium reactor and the epicenter of American nuclear production during the Cold War. Now the 586-square-mile campus is the subject of the largest environmental cleanup operation the United States government has ever undertaken. There are other sites in America with long nuclear historiesplaces like Oak Ridge, Los Alamos, Yucca Mountain. But none have become sprawling disasters with quite as much panache as Hanford. The human and environmental consequences of Hanford have spread beyond those borders, across Washington and Oregon. A decade ago a rash of radioactive tumbleweeds blew across the nearby plains. In the early 1960s, an irradiated whale was killed off the Oregon coast, having apparently been contaminated by nuclear waste flowing down the Columbia River.
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Workers have raised the first section of a colossal arch-shaped structure that eventually will cover the exploded nuclear reactor at the Chernobyl power station. Upon completion, the shelter will be moved on tracks over the building containing the destroyed reactor, allowing work to begin on dismantling the reactor and disposing of radioactive waste. The shelter, shaped like a gargantuan Quonset hut, will be 257 meters by 150 meters (843 feet by 492 feet) when completed and at its apex will be higher than the Statue of Liberty. The shelter is to be moved over the reactor building by the end of 2015 a deadline that no one wants to miss given that the so-called sarcophagus hastily built over the reactor building after the 1986 explosion has an estimated service life of about 30 years. The arch now under construction is only one of two segments that will eventually form the shelter, and so far it's only been raised to a height of 22 meters (72 feet). More structural elements have to be added before it reaches its full height of 108 meters (354 feet), and the work so far has taken seven months. The overall shelter project is budgeted at 1.54 billion ($2 billion) 1 billion ($1.3 billion) of that for the structure itself and much uncertainty lies ahead. Even when the shelter is in place, the area around the reactor building will remain hazardous.
Note: It is now over 25 years since the massive Chernobyl disaster and the site is still not safe. Why are we gambling our own health and the health of the planet with such risky technology when there are other alternatives that are much safer and more friendly to the environment? For deeply revealing reports from reliable major media sources on the environmental and health impacts of nuclear power, click here.
Exposure to radioactive material released into the environment has caused mutations in butterflies found in Japan, a study suggests. Scientists found an increase in leg, antennae and wing shape mutations among butterflies collected following the 2011 Fukushima accident. By comparing mutations found on the butterflies collected from the different sites, the team found that areas with greater amounts of radiation in the environment were home to butterflies with much smaller wings and irregularly developed eyes. Six months later, they again collected adults from the 10 sites and found that butterflies from the Fukushima area showed a mutation rate more than double that of those found sooner after the accident. The team concluded that this higher rate of mutation came from eating contaminated food, but also from mutations of the parents' genetic material that was passed on to the next generation, even though these mutations were not evident in the previous generations' adult butterflies. The findings from their new research show that the radionuclides released from the accident had led to novel, severely abnormal development, and that the mutations to the butterflies' genetic material [were] still affecting the insects, even after the residual radiation in the environment had decayed away. "This study is important and overwhelming in its implications for both the human and biological communities living in Fukushima," explained University of South Carolina biologist Tim Mousseau, who studies the impacts of radiation on animals and plants.
The U.S. government said it will stop issuing permits for new nuclear power plants and license extensions for existing facilities until it resolves issues around storing radioactive waste. The government's main watchdog, the Nuclear Regulatory Commission, believes that current storage plans are safe and achievable. But a federal court said that the NRC didn't detail what the environmental consequences would be if the agency is wrong. There are 14 reactors awaiting license renewals at the NRC, and an additional 16 reactors awaiting permits for new construction. Nuclear waste disposal has been a daunting political question that is still unanswered after decades of study. Nuclear watchdog groups -- which don't agree with the NRC's assertion that the waste is currently safely stored -- are hoping the new review will provide an opportunity to push for stricter standards at nuclear power plants. There are currently 104 operating nuclear reactors at 64 plants across the country. Half are over 30 years old. '"The court is ordering them to do this analysis that should have been done a long time ago," said Edwin Lyman, a senior scientist at the Union of Concerned Scientists. In particular, UCS and others want less of the waste to be stored in pools of water, which they believe are vulnerable to sudden draining and possible meltdown.
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The nuclear accident at Fukushima was a preventable disaster rooted in government-industry collusion and the worst conformist conventions of Japanese culture, a parliamentary inquiry [has] concluded. The report, released by the Fukushima Nuclear Accident Independent Investigation Commission, challenged some of the main story lines that the government and the operator of the Fukushima Daiichi Nuclear Power Plant have put forward. Most notably, the report said the plants crucial cooling systems might have been damaged in the earthquake on March 11, 2011, not only in the ensuing tsunami. That possibility raises doubts about the safety of all the quake-prone countrys nuclear plants just as they begin to restart after a pause ordered in the wake of the Fukushima crisis. It was a profoundly man-made disaster that could and should have been foreseen and prevented, said Kiyoshi Kurokawa, the commissions chairman, in the reports introduction. And its effects could have been mitigated by a more effective human response. The 641-page report criticized Tepco as being too quick to dismiss earthquake damage as a cause of the fuel meltdowns at three of the plants six reactors, which overheated when the site lost power. Tepco has contended that the plant withstood the earthquake that rocked eastern Japan, instead placing blame for the disaster on what some experts have called a once in a millennium tsunami that followed.
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Two prominent seismologists said on Tuesday that Japan is ignoring the safety lessons of last year's Fukushima crisis and warned against restarting two reactors next month. Japan has approved the restart of the two reactors at the Kansai Electric Power Ohi nuclear plant, northwest of Tokyo, despite mass public opposition. They will be the first to come back on line after all reactors were shut following a massive earthquake and tsunami last March that caused the worst nuclear crisis since Chernobyl at Tokyo Electric Power's Daiichi Fukushima plant. Seismic modeling by Japan's nuclear regulator did not properly take into account active fault lines near the Ohi plant, Katsuhiko Ishibashi, a seismologist at Kobe University, told reporters. "The stress tests and new safety guidelines for restarting nuclear power plants both allow for accidents at plants to occur," Ishibashi told reporters. "Instead of making standards more strict, they both represent a severe setback in safety standards." Experts advising Japan's nuclear industry had underestimated the seismic threat, Mitsuhisa Watanabe, a tectonic geomorphology professor at Tokyo University, said at the same news conference. "The expertise and neutrality of experts advising Japan's Nuclear Industrial Safety Agency are highly questionable," Watanabe said.
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Faulty computer modeling caused the equipment problems that are expected to keep the San Onofre nuclear plant dark through the summer, federal regulators said Monday. The plant has been out of service since Jan. 31, when operators discovered a small leak in one of the thousands of steam generator tubes that carry hot, radioactive water used to create steam to turn turbines that generate electricity. That led to the discovery that other tubes were rubbing against support structures and adjacent tubes, and wearing out more quickly than expected. Eight tubes failed pressure testing, which NRC officials said ... is the first time in the nuclear industry that more than one tube at a plant has failed. The wear is a safety concern because tube ruptures can release radiation. The plant's operator, Southern California Edison; the NRC; and Mitsubishi Heavy Industries, the manufacturer of the steam generators, have been studying the cause and extent of the wear. The NRC has ordered Edison to keep the plant shuttered until it has determined the cause and how to fix it. "This is a significant, serious safety issue," said NRC regional administrator Elmo Collins. "This is a very difficult technical issue, and to be honest, it's not one we've seen before." NRC officials said it appears that simulations by Mitsubishi underpredicted the velocity of steam and water flowing among the tubes by a factor of three or four. The high rate of flow caused the tubes to vibrate and knock against each other, leading to the wear. It was not clear why the computer modeling was so far off.
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Could we be overlooking profound questions and truths about the again-rising likelihood of the decimation or the end of life on Earth in an H-bomb holocaust? The actual and prospective nuclear policy and practice of the United States, Israel and Britain has moved from the nuclear disarmament promised in the Nuclear Nonproliferation Treaty into attacking nations that ... insist on getting the same weapons we have. More nations keep getting the H-bomb and the systems to deliver it wherever they want to. There is still no international control of these weapons that can end life on Earth. Jonathan Schell reports in The Seventh Decade that 50 more nations know how to make H-bombs. Its a secret no more. Why are possibly apocalyptic facts about them blocked from us by nine systems of military secrecy? For just one example, does Israel, as indicated in Ron Rosenbaums recent well-sourced book How the End Begins, have five German-made nuclear-armed submarines in the Mediterranean poised to fire H-bombs in retaliation even if Israels leadership has been decapitated? The U.S. should be leading the world toward near zero or the abolition of these weapons. We should be challenging our officials and military for risking our deaths, the lives of our fellow human beings and our national honor by keeping, maintaining and implicitly threatening to use our own weapons of mass murder.
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Last years tsunami disaster in Japan clouded the nations nuclear future, idled its reactors and rendered its huge stockpile of plutonium useless for now. So, the industrys plan to produce even more has raised a red flag. Nuclear industry officials say they hope to start producing a half-ton of plutonium within months, in addition to the more than 35 tons Japan already has stored around the world. Thats even though all the reactors that might use it are either inoperable or offline while the country rethinks its nuclear policy after the tsunami-generated Fukushima crisis. Its crazy, said Princeton University professor Frank von Hippel, a leading authority on nonproliferation issues and a former assistant director for national security in the White House Office of Science and Technology. There is absolutely no reason to do that. Japans nuclear industry produces plutonium which is strictly regulated globally because it also is used for nuclear weapons by reprocessing spent, uranium-based fuel in a procedure aimed at decreasing radioactive waste that otherwise would require long-term storage. Fuel reprocessing remains unreliable and it is questionable whether it is a viable way of reducing Japans massive amounts of spent fuel rods, said Takeo Kikkawa, a Hitotsubashi University professor specializing in energy issues. Japan should abandon the program altogether, said Hideyuki Ban, co-director of a respected anti-nuclear Citizens Nuclear Information Center. Then we can also contribute to the global effort for nuclear non-proliferation.
Note: For a state-of-the-art analysis revealing that radioactive fallout from the Fukushima meltdown is at least as big as Chernobyl and more global in reach, click here.
Fourteen months after the accident [at the Fukushima Daiichi nuclear plant], a pool brimming with used fuel rods and filled with vast quantities of radioactive cesium still sits on the top floor of a heavily damaged reactor building, covered only with plastic. The publics fears about the pool have grown in recent months as some scientists have warned that it has the most potential for setting off a new catastrophe ... as frequent quakes continue to rattle the region. The jury-rigged cooling system for the pool has already malfunctioned several times, including a 24-hour failure in April. Had the outages continued, they would have left the rods at risk of dangerous overheating. The No. 4 reactor is visibly damaged and in a fragile state, down to the floor that holds the spent fuel pool, said Hiroaki Koide, an assistant professor at Kyoto Universitys Research Reactor Institute and one of the experts raising concerns. Any radioactive release could be huge and go directly into the environment. The worst-case situations for Reactor No. 4 would be for the pool to run dry if there is another problem with the cooling system and the rods catch fire, releasing enormous amounts of radioactive material, or for fission to restart if the metal panels that separate the rods are knocked over in a quake. That would be especially bad because the pool, unlike reactors, lacks containment vessels to hold in radioactive materials.
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It has been revealed that ailing imaging company Kodak had a secret nuclear reactor hidden in a US research facility for more than 30 years. The reactor, which contained 1.5kg of enriched "weapons-grade" uranium, was a Californium Flux Multiplier (CFX) acquired by the company in 1974 and only decommissioned in 2006. "The uranium used in the CFX was highly enriched, but ... was not easily adaptable to creating a nuclear weapon," company spokesman Christopher Veronda told Fairfax Media. While the reactor was not used to generate power and therefore was not at risk of a meltdown, it was still vulnerable to radiation leaks. "These devices are very rare," said Miles Pomper, a senior research associate at the Center for Nonproliferation Studies in Washington, D.C. "According to the decommissioning plan submitted by Kodak it is only one of two such devices ever produced - and the only one for private industry," Mr Pomper [said]. The CFX, which was roughly the size of a domestic refrigerator, was used for neutron multiplication, an analytical method. Kodak used it to test chemicals for impurities, and to perform neutron radiography - an imaging technique in which neutrons are passed through an object [and] then produce an image of the object as they expose a photographic film. If the reactor really was secure, it poses the question: why was it decommissioned? Kodak claims that in 2003 it made the decision to pursue alternative, more cost-effective methods of analysis. The uranium was removed in 2007 and taken to a government facility in South Carolina.
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Kelp off California was contaminated with short-lived radioisotopes a month after Japan's Fukushima Dai-ichi nuclear plant accident, a sign that the spilled radiation reached the state's coastline. Scientists from CSU Long Beach tested giant kelp collected off Orange County, Santa Cruz and other locations after the March 2011 accident and detected radioactive iodine, which was released from the damaged nuclear reactor. The largest concentration was about 250 times higher than levels found in kelp before the accident. "Basically, we saw it in all the California kelp blades we sampled," said Steven Manley, a CSU Long Beach biology professor who specializes in kelp. The radioactivity had no known effects on the giant kelp, or on fish and other marine life, and it was undetectable a month later. Iodine 131 "has an eight-day half-life, so it's pretty much all gone," Manley said. "But this shows what happens half a world away does effect what happens here." Some radioactive material probably accumulated in fish that eat the kelp. "We just don't know if it was harmful," Manley said. Iodine 131, found in nuclear fission products, is not naturally occurring and is not naturally found in oceans.
The operator of Japans tsunami-hit nuclear plant says tons of highly radioactive water appears to have leaked into the ocean from a purification unit. The leak comes as Tokyo Electric Power Co. struggles to keep the melted reactors cool and contain radiation and raises concerns about its ability to keep the plant stable. Similar leaks have occurred several times since last year, and officials say they do not pose an immediate health threat.
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One of Japan's crippled nuclear reactors still has fatally high radiation levels and hardly any water to cool its fuel, according to an internal examination that reinforces doubts about the plant's stability. The data collected showed the damage from the disaster is so severe, the plant operator will have to develop special equipment and technology to tolerate the harsh environment and decommission the plant, a process expected to last decades. The No. 2 reactor is the only one plant workers have been able to closely examine so far. Tuesday's examination with an industrial endoscope detected radiation levels up to 10 times the fatal dose inside the chamber. The other two reactors that had meltdowns could be in even worse shape. Three Dai-ichi reactors had meltdowns, but the No. 2 reactor is the only one that has been examined because radiation levels inside the reactor building are relatively low and its container is designed with a convenient slot to send in the endoscope. The exact conditions of the other two reactors, where hydrogen explosions damaged their buildings, are still unknown. Simulations have indicated that more fuel inside No. 1 has breached the core than the other two, but radiation at No. 3 remains the highest. The high radiation levels inside the No. 2 reactor's chamber mean it's inaccessible to the workers. Fukushima's accident has instilled public distrust and concerns about nuclear safety, making it difficult for the government to start up reactors even after regular safety checks. All but one of Japan's 54 reactors are now offline, with the last one scheduled to stop in early May.
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A nuclear reactor on the Southern California coast will remain shut down indefinitely while a team of federal inspectors determines why several relatively new tubes became so frail that tests found they could rupture and release radioactive water, a federal official said [on March 15]. The Unit 3 reactor at the San Onofre Nuclear Generating Station, located about 45 miles north of San Diego, was shut down as a precaution on Jan. 31 after a water leak from another tube in a massive steam generator. Since then, investigators have been looking into excessive wear found on steam generator tubes in the seaside plant and its twin, Unit 2, which has been offline for maintenance and refueling. The two huge steam generators at Unit 2, each containing 9,700 tubes, were replaced in fall 2009, and a year later in Unit 3 as part of a $670 million overhaul. The Nuclear Regulatory Commission dispatched a special, five-member team to Unit 3 ... after pressure tests showed three of the metal-alloy tubes had become so degraded that they could rupture under some circumstances. Such ruptures can require a plant to shut down, if spewing water reaches 150 gallons a day. According to the NRC, the tubes have an important safety role because they represent one of the primary barriers between the radioactive and non-radioactive sides of the plant. If a tube breaks, radioactivity from the system that pumps water through the reactor could escape into the atmosphere.
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Japan's prime minister acknowledged Saturday the government failed in its response to last year's earthquake and tsunami, being too slow in relaying key information and believing too much in "a myth of safety" about nuclear power. "We can no longer make the excuse that what was unpredictable and outside our imagination has happened," Prime Minister Yoshihiko Noda said. "Crisis management requires us to imagine what may be outside our imagination." Noda was speaking to reporters at his official residence ahead of the anniversary of the March 11 disaster that killed nearly 20,000 people in northeastern Japan and set off the worst nuclear crisis since Chernobyl. The phrase "soteigai," or "outside our imagination," was used repeatedly by Tokyo Electric Power Co., the utility that ran the plant, as the reason why it was not prepared for the giant tsunami that hit after the magnitude-9.0 quake. Although some scholars had warned about such tsunami risks, both the utility and regulators did little and kept backup generators in basements where they could be flooded. Japan has also drawn criticism as having been slow with information about the meltdowns and about radiation leaks into the air and the ocean. "We can say in hindsight that the government, business and scholars had all been seeped in a myth of safety," Noda said of the oversights in the accident. "The responsibility must be shared."
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Japans tsunami-hit Fukushima power plant remains fragile nearly a year after it suffered multiple meltdowns, its chief said [on February 28], with makeshift equipment some mended with tape keeping crucial systems running. An independent report, meanwhile, revealed that the government downplayed the full danger in the days after the March 11 disaster and secretly considered evacuating Tokyo. Journalists given a tour of the Fukushima Dai-ichi plant on Tuesday ... saw crumpled trucks and equipment still lying on the ground. A power pylon that collapsed in the tsunami, cutting electricity to the plants vital cooling system and setting off the crisis, remained a mangled mess. The equipment that serves as the lifeline of the cooling system is shockingly feeble-looking. Plastic hoses cracked by freezing temperatures have been mended with tape. A set of three pumps sits on the back of a pickup truck. Along with the pumps, the plant now has 1,000 tanks to store more than 160,000 tons of contaminated water. The Unit 3 reactor, whose roof was blown off by a hydrogen explosion, resembles an ashtray filled with a heap of cigarette butts. Officials say radiation hot spots remain inside the plant and minimizing exposure to them is a challenge.
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The Nuclear Regulatory Commission voted 4-1 ... to grant a license to build two reactors at a nuclear plant in Georgia. It was the first time the commission decided to grant a license for a new reactor since 1978, a year before the Three Mile Island accident in Pennsylvania. The sole vote against approval was cast by the commission's chairman, Gregory B. Jaczko. He said the construction and operating license would not assure that all of the safety improvements mandated by the agency in response to Japan's Fukushima disaster would be accomplished before the reactors begin operating in 2016 and 2017. The plant, which already has two reactors dating from the 1980s, will be the largest nuclear complex in the United States. The reactors were supposed to be the first in a wave of new projects after the Bush administration set aside $17.5 billion in loan guarantees for nuclear projects. But the nuclear rebirth has been so puny that much of that money is still available. The Energy Department has promised an $8.3 billion loan guarantee for the two reactors.
Note: Why is this happening less than a year after the Fukushima disaster which left huge areas of land uninhabitable to this day?
Unusual wear has been found on hundreds of tubes that carry radioactive water at Southern Californias San Onofre Unit 2 nuclear plant, raising questions about the integrity of equipment the company installed in a multimillion-dollar makeover in 2009. The disclosure came two days after a tube leak at the plants other unit prompted operators to shut down the reactor as a precaution. A tiny amount of radiation could have escaped, but officials say workers and the public were not endangered. The problems at Unit 2 were discovered during inspections of a steam generator, after the plant 45 miles north of San Diego was taken off-line for maintenance and refueling. The two huge steam generators at Unit 2, each containing 9,700 tubes, were replaced in fall 2009, and a year later in its twin plant, Unit 3, as part of a $670 million overhaul. According to the Nuclear Regulatory Commission, more than a third of the wall had been worn away in two tubes at Unit 2, which will require them to be plugged and taken out of service. At least 20 percent of the tube wall was worn away in 69 other tubes, and in more than 800, the thinning was at least 10 percent. Retired NRC engineer and researcher Joram Hopenfeld said the company will have to determine why the tubing is degrading so quickly before they do anything else. Ive never heard of anything like that over so short a period of time, Hopenfeld said. The safety implications could be very, very severe, Hopenfeld added.
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A federal judge on [January 19] blocked Vermont from forcing the Vermont Yankee nuclear reactor to shut down when its license expires in March, saying that the state is trying to regulate nuclear safety, which only the federal government can do. The judge [said] in his ruling that ... state lawmakers and witnesses made clear that their effort to close the plant was "grounded in radiological safety concerns" - the province of the federal Nuclear Regulatory Commission. The commission has already granted Vermont Yankee a 20-year license extension. The ruling is almost certain to be appealed by the state and an array of private groups that want the plant shut down because of leaks of radioactive tritium and other issues. Since Entergy bought Vermont Yankee 10 years ago, public opinion has turned sharply against the plant. After several plants around the country suffered leaks of radioactive water into the soil, state officials asked Vermont Yankee executives in 2009 whether their plant might be susceptible to that problem. The executives said that Vermont Yankee had no underground pipes carrying radioactive material. But it did - and the pipes leaked. The State Senate voted 26 to 4 in 2010 not to authorize the needed certificate.
Note: How convenient for the nuclear power industry that federal judges can block state legislation to shut down dangerous nuclear power plants. For more on corporate and government corruption, click here and here.
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