Nuclear Power News ArticlesExcerpts of key news articles on nuclear power
The stricken nuclear power plant at Fukushima has probably been leaking contaminated water into the ocean for two years, ever since an earthquake and tsunami badly damaged the plant, Japan’s chief nuclear regulator said on [July 10]. In unusually candid comments, Shunichi Tanaka, the head of the Nuclear Regulation Authority, also said that neither his staff nor the plant’s operator knew exactly where the leaks were coming from, or how to stop them. The operator, Tokyo Electric Power, has reported spikes in the amounts of radioactive cesium, tritium and strontium detected in groundwater at the plant, adding urgency to the task of sealing any leaks. Radioactive cesium and strontium, especially, are known to raise risks of cancer in humans. Mr. Tanaka’s comments bring into sharp relief the precariousness of the cleanup at the Fukushima Daiichi Nuclear Power Plant, where core meltdowns occurred at three of the six reactors. A critical problem has been the groundwater that has been pouring into the basements of the damaged reactor buildings and becoming contaminated. Workers have been pumping the water out to be stored in dozens of tanks at the plant, but have not stopped the inflow. Until recently, Tokyo Electric ... flatly denied that any of that water was leaking into the ocean, even though various independent studies of radiation levels in the nearby ocean have suggested otherwise. Mr. Tanaka said that the evidence was overwhelming. “We’ve seen for a fact that levels of radioactivity in the seawater remain high, and contamination continues — I don’t think anyone can deny that,” he said.
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Japan’s ruling Liberal Democratic Party has removed most anti-nuclear researchers from a revamped post-Fukushima energy policy advisory board to the government. After a landslide victory in a December election, Prime Minister Shinzo Abe has said the previous administration’s policy to abandon atomic power needs to be reviewed. Six of eight members that voted for phasing out nuclear power on the board advising the previous government have been dropped from the LDP panel. Another ten members were reappointed, including Akio Mimura, an adviser for Nippon Steel & Sumitomo Metal Corp., as chairman. He headed an energy advisory board under a previous LDP government that promoted nuclear power. “It’s wrong to let the same man who led discussions on pre-Fukushima energy policy be in charge,” said Tetsunari Iida, the executive director of the Institute for Sustainable Energy Policies. Iida was one of those dropped from the advisory board. In September, the government led by the Democratic Party of Japan approved phasing out nuclear power by the end of the 2030s. Around 160,000 people were evacuated because of radiation fallout. Three options were considered for the country’s future energy supply: Zero nuclear, 15 percent nuclear, and 20 percent to 25 percent. A government poll in August found 47 percent of citizens favored zero, with the remainder split on the other choices. “The LDP wants to avoid the zero nuclear scenario at all costs and is looking for a point of compromise between 15 percent and 20 percent nuclear,” said Hiroshi Takahashi, a research fellow at Fujitsu Research Institute.
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Within weeks of setting off a geiger counter and scrubbing three layers of skin off his hands and arms, former Navy quartermaster Maurice Enis recalled being pressured to sign away U.S. government liability for any future health problems. Enis and about 5,000 fellow sailors aboard the USS Ronald Reagan aircraft carrier had finally left Japan, after 80-some days aiding victims of the March 11, 2011, Fukushima earthquake and tsunami, and were about to take a long-awaited port call in Thailand. But first, they were told they needed to fill out some paperwork. "They had us [to] sign off that we were medically fine, had no sickness, and that we couldn't sue the U.S. government," Enis [says], recalling widespread anger among the sailors who ... felt they had little choice. [On] the [second] anniversary of the Fukushima disaster, Enis joined a lawsuit with more than 100 other service members who participated in the rescue mission and who have since developed medical issues they contend are related to radioactive fallout from the disabled Fukushima Daiichi nuclear plant. Rather than targeting the U.S. government, the federal lawsuit names plant owner Tokyo Electric Power Co. the defendant. TEPCO, as the company is known, provided false information to U.S. officials about the extent of spreading radiation from its stricken reactors, according to Roger Witherspoon on his blog Energy Matters.
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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 America’s 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 world’s 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 histories—places 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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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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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.
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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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?
The Japanese government [has] declared that the Fukushima Daiichi nuclear plant had reached a stable state known as “cold shutdown.” But the formal status change at the plant, experts cautioned, means only that its problems have become less dire; they have not disappeared. The plant still leaks radiation into the sea. Its makeshift cooling system is vulnerable to earthquakes. And the cleanup work remains dangerous, with many flooded and debris-strewn areas of the reactor buildings difficult even for robots to access. In normal circumstances, a reactor in cold shutdown mode is entirely stable, its fuel intact, with no chance of a chain reaction. To achieve its version of a cold shutdown at Fukushima Daiichi, ... Japan had to loosen the definition. Fukushima now meets the government’s requirements because temperatures at the bottom of the three damaged reactor pressure vessels have dropped below 100 degrees Celsius (212 degrees Fahrenheit). Airborne leaks into the environment have also been almost halted. The declaration poses new questions for many of the 80,000 people who fled towns around the plant ... since the government had made the cold shutdown a precondition for even considering reopening parts of the no-go zone to residents. Many areas within the no-entry zone — a 12-mile radius around the plant — will be uninhabitable for decades, maybe longer.
This spring’s nuclear disaster at the Fukushima Daiichi power plant released almost double the amount of radiation the Japanese government has claimed, according to a new analysis. The authors say the boiling pools holding spent fuel rods played a role in the release of some of the contaminants, primarily cesium-137 — and that this could have been mitigated by an earlier response. Researchers at the Norwegian Institute of Air Research ... say the amount of cesium-137, a long-lived isotope that persists in the atmosphere, was about twice as high as the Japanese government’s official estimate. The researchers also say about 20 percent of the total fallout landed over Japan, but the vast majority fell over the Pacific Ocean. (The effects of this fallout on fisheries and aquatic wildlife are still being determined.) Cesium-137 emissions peaked three or four days after the quake and tsunami, remaining high until March 19, according to this new study. That’s the day authorities started spraying water on the spent-fuel pool at reactor unit 4, the researchers note. “This indicates that emissions were not only coming from the damaged reactor cores, but also from the spent-fuel pool of unit 4 and confirms that the spraying was an effective countermeasure,” they say. This contradicts Japanese government reports claiming the pools released no radiation.
Note: According to the French nuclear agency, the Institute for Radiological Protection and Nuclear Safety (IRSN, Institut de Radioprotection et de Surete Nucleaire), even the higher estimate of radiation release described in this article is too low. The agency estimates that 20 times more cesium-137 was released than has been admitted by Tepco.
FirstEnergy Corp. [stock price] fell after a report that engineers discovered cracks in the concrete shell of its Davis-Besse nuclear plant. Contractors on Oct. 10 discovered a hairline crack measuring about 30 feet (9.1 meters) long as they sliced a hole into the plant’s outer shell in order to install a new reactor vessel head, said Jennifer Young, a FirstEnergy spokeswoman. The cracked shell is the outermost of several layers of steel and concrete that protect the reactor, which has been shut down since Oct. 1 in preparation for the repair work. Davis-Besse was shuttered for more than three months in 2010 after workers discovered cooling water leaking through cracks in some reactor-head nozzles, steel casings that hold fuel and control rods. Leaks and reactor corrosion prompted FirstEnergy to close the plant for two years, from 2002 to 2004, while the company retrained or replaced workers who ignored signs of damage, and eventually replaced the reactor head. The leaks found last year at the 900-megawatt plant prompted the Union of Concerned Scientists in April 2010 to demand that the plant remain closed until its owners established better controls to maintain health and safety standards.
Note: If you want to see how safety around nuclear plants is ignored and threatened all the time by money interests at all levels, watch the amazingly revealing documentary on Chernobyl at this link. The most telling piece in this documentary involves the man tasked by Gorbechov to write the official report of all the problems they faced. When he gave the report to the IAEA in a secret meeting, he was ridiculed by the other international leaders there, who accused him of spreading baseless fears. On the second anniversary of the Chernobyl disaster, he committed suicide.
Radioactive tritium has leaked from three-quarters of U.S. commercial nuclear power sites, often into groundwater from corroded, buried piping. The number and severity of the leaks has been escalating, even as federal regulators extend the licenses of more and more reactors across the nation. Tritium, which is a radioactive form of hydrogen, has leaked from at least 48 of 65 sites, according to U.S. Nuclear Regulatory Commission records reviewed as part of the AP's yearlong examination of safety issues at aging nuclear power plants. Leaks from at least 37 of those facilities contained concentrations exceeding the federal drinking water standard — sometimes at hundreds of times the limit. At three sites — two in Illinois and one in Minnesota — leaks have contaminated drinking wells of nearby homes. At a fourth site, in New Jersey, tritium has leaked into an aquifer and a discharge canal feeding picturesque Barnegat Bay off the Atlantic Ocean. Any exposure to radioactivity, no matter how slight, boosts cancer risk, according to the National Academy of Sciences. Tritium moves through soil quickly, and when it is detected it often indicates the presence of more powerful radioactive isotopes that are often spilled at the same time.
Physician Janette Sherman, M.D. and epidemiologist Joseph Mangano published a report Monday highlighting a 35% spike in northwest infant mortality after Japan's nuclear meltdown. The report spotlighted data from the CDC's Morbidity and Mortality Weekly Report on infant mortality rates in eight northwest cities, including Seattle, in the 10 weeks after Fukushima's nuclear meltdown. The average number of infant deaths for the region moved from an average of 9.25 in the four weeks before Fukushima' nuclear meltdown, to an average of 12.5 per week in the 10 weeks after. The change represents a 35% increase in the northwest's infant mortality rates. In comparison, the average rates for the entire U.S. rose only 2.3%.
A group of more than 200 Japanese pensioners are volunteering to tackle the nuclear crisis at the Fukushima power station. The Skilled Veterans Corps, as they call themselves, is made up of retired engineers and other professionals, all over the age of 60. They say they should be facing the dangers of radiation, not the young. It was while watching the television news that Yasuteru Yamada decided it was time for his generation to stand up. No longer could he be just an observer of the struggle to stabilise the Fukushima nuclear plant. The retired engineer is reporting back for duty at the age of 72, and he is organising a team of pensioners to go with him. For weeks now Mr Yamada has been getting back in touch with old friends, sending out e-mails and even messages on Twitter. Volunteering to take the place of younger workers at the power station is not brave, Mr Yamada says, but logical. "I am 72 and on average I probably have 13 to 15 years left to live," he says. "Even if I were exposed to radiation, cancer could take 20 or 30 years or longer to develop. Therefore us older ones have less chance of getting cancer." Mr Yamada is lobbying the government hard for his volunteers to be allowed into the power station. The government has expressed gratitude for the offer but is cautious.
The operator of the crippled Fukushima Daiichi nuclear plant said it is studying whether the facility's reactors were damaged in the March 11 earthquake even before the massive tsunami that followed cut off power and sent the reactors into crisis. Kyodo news agency quoted an unnamed source at the utility on Sunday as saying that the No. 1 reactor might have suffered structural damage in the earthquake that caused a release of radiation separate from the tsunami. Tepco has provided a new analysis of the early hours of the Fukushima crisis. The utility said on Sunday that a review of data from March 11 suggested that the fuel rods in the No. 1 reactor were completely exposed to the air and rapidly heating five hours after the quake. By the next morning - just 16 hours later - the uranium fuel rods in the first reactor had melted down and dropped to the bottom of the pressure vessel. The No. 2 and No. 3 reactors are expected to have gone through a similar process and like No. 1 are leaking most of the water being pumped in a bid to keep their cores cool. A massive pond of radioactive water has collected in the basement of the No. 1 reactor. Experts fear that the contaminated water leaking from the plant could threaten groundwater and the Pacific.
Japanese officials have been forced to explain why it took them a month to disclose large-scale releases of radioactive material in mid-March at a crippled nuclear-power plant. The government announced [on April 12] that it had raised its rating of the severity of the accident at the Fukushima Daiichi nuclear complex to 7, the worst on an international scale, from 5. Japan's new assessment was based largely on computer models showing heavy emissions of radioactive iodine and cesium March 14-16, soon after a magnitude-9.0 earthquake and tsunami rendered the plant's emergency cooling system inoperative. The nearly monthlong delay in acknowledging the extent of these emissions is a fresh example of confused data and analysis from the Japanese and put authorities on the defensive about whether they have delayed or blocked the release of information to avoid alarming the public. Seiji Shiroya, a commissioner of Japan's Nuclear Safety Commission, an independent panel that oversees the country's nuclear industry, ... suggested a public-policy reason for having kept quiet. "Some foreigners fled the country even when there appeared to be little risk," he said. "If we immediately decided to label the situation as Level 7, we could have triggered a panicked reaction." The peak release in emissions of radioactive particles took place after hydrogen explosions at three Fukujima reactors.
Igor Gramotkin is ... the manager of the Chernobyl nuclear power plant in Ukraine, and has spent more than two decades at the site of the most devastating nuclear accident in history, trying to stop further radiation emissions and cleaning the area. Mr Gramotkin admitted that the destroyed reactor, still full of radioactive waste and nuclear fuel, remains "a threat not only to Ukraine but to the whole world" until it is encased in a vast steel structure that is being built. In the months after the accident, a makeshift "sarcophagus" had been constructed to encase the reactor, but it is now unstable and, despite work to shore it up, experts say a new shelter is desperately needed in case the old one collapses. At more than 100m tall, the shelter will be the largest moveable structure ever built. Those building it still have to be extremely careful. Standing in the area immediately around the plant subjects a person to radiation equivalent to about one old-style chest X-ray per day. The human costs of the Chernobyl accident are ... horrific by any estimate. [Some] studies put the figure in the hundreds of thousands. There are incidences of genetic mutations, children born lacking organs, and dramatically elevated thyroid cancer levels in local children, who drank milk contaminated with radioactive iodine in the years after the accident.
The chaos at the Fukushima Daiichi nuclear plant — explosions, fires, ruptures — has not shaken the bipartisan support in partisan Washington for the U.S.'s so-called nuclear renaissance. Republicans have dismissed Japan's crisis as a once-in-a-lifetime fluke. President Obama has defended atomic energy as a carbon-free source of power, resisting calls to halt the renaissance and freeze construction of the U.S.'s first new reactors in over three decades. But there is no renaissance. Even before the earthquake-tsunami one-two punch, the endlessly hyped U.S. nuclear revival was stumbling, pummeled by skyrocketing costs, stagnant demand and skittish investors, not to mention the defeat of restrictions on carbon that could have mitigated nuclear energy's economic insanity. Obama has offered unprecedented aid to an industry that already enjoyed cradle-to-grave subsidies, and the antispending GOP has clamored for even more largesse. But Wall Street hates nukes as much as K Street loves them, which is why there's no new reactor construction to freeze. Once hailed as "too cheap to meter," nuclear fission turns out to be an outlandishly expensive method of generating juice for our Xboxes.
Nuclear plants in the United States last year experienced at least 14 "near misses," serious failures in which safety was jeopardized, at least in part, due to lapses in oversight and enforcement by US nuclear safety regulators, says a new report. They occurred with alarming frequency – more than once a month – which is high for a mature industry, said the study of nuclear plant safety performance in 2010 by the Union of Concerned Scientists, a Washington-based nuclear watchdog group. The report, the first in what the UCS expects will become an annual study, details both successes and failures by the US Nuclear Regulatory Commission, which it calls "the cop on the beat." Charged with overseeing America's fleet of 104 nuclear reactors, the NRC made some "outstanding catches," but was also inconsistent in its oversight, seeming at times to nod off when most needed. "The chances of a disaster at a nuclear plant are low," the report states. "But when the NRC tolerates unresolved safety problems – as it did last year at Peach Bottom, Indian Point, and Vermont Yankee – this lax oversight allows that risk to rise. The more owners sweep safety problems under the rug and the longer safety problems remain uncorrected, the higher the risk climbs."
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For 18 months, operators at the Diablo Canyon nuclear plant near San Luis Obispo didn't realize that a system to pump water into one of their reactors during an emergency wasn't working. It had been accidentally disabled by the plant's own engineers, according to a report ... from the Union of Concerned Scientists watchdog group, [which] lists 14 recent "near misses" - instances in which serious problems at a plant required federal regulators to respond. The report criticizes both plant operators and the Nuclear Regulatory Commission for allowing some known safety issues to fester. The problem at Diablo Canyon ... involved a series of valves that allow water to pour into one of the plant's two reactors during emergencies, keeping the reactor from overheating. A pair of remotely operated valves in the emergency cooling system was taking too long to move from completely closed to completely open. So engineers shortened the distance between those two positions, according to the report. Unfortunately, two other pairs of valves were interlocked with the first. They couldn't open at all until the first pair opened all the way. No one noticed until the valves refused to open during a test in October 2009, 18 months after the engineers made the changes.
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