Fukushima spews, Los Alamos burns, Vermont rages and we’ve almost lost Nebraska

Radiation

Which part of nuclear power is clean, again? Photo: LepsoSs via Flickr.

Humankind is now threatened by the simultaneous implosion, explosion, incineration, courtroom contempt and drowning of its most lethal industry. The nuclear one.

We know only two things for certain: worse nuclear disasters are yet to come, and those in charge are lying about it—at least to the extent of sharing what they actually know, which is nowhere near enough. Indeed, assurances from the nuclear power industry continue to flow like the flood waters now swamping the Missouri Valley heartland.

But major breakthroughs against nuclear power have come from a Pennsylvania Senator and New York’s governor on issues of evacuation and shut-down in the event of nuclear disaster. And a public campaign for an end to loan guarantees to nuclear energy companies could put an end to the US nuclear industry once and for all.

On Fukushima

The bad news on nuclear disaster continues to bleed from Japan with no end in sight. Sadly the “light at the end of the tunnel” is an out-of-control radioactive freight train, headed to the core of an endangered planet. Widespread internal radioactive contamination among Japanese citizens around Fukushima Nuclear Power Plant has now been confirmed. Two whales caught some 650 kilometers from the melting reactors have shown intense radiation. And plutonium, the deadliest substance known to people, has been found dangerously far from the site.

Tokyo Electric and the Japanese government have admitted to three total meltdowns at the nuclear plant but can’t confirm with any reliability the current state of those cores. There’s reason to believe one or more have progressed to “melt-throughs” in which they burn through the thick stainless steel pressure vessel and onto the containment floor. The molten cores may be covered with water. But whether they can melt further through the containments and into the ground remains unclear.

Possibilities may include a China Syndrome style escalating nuclear disaster in which one or more still-molten cores does melt through the containment and hits ground water. That could lead to a steam explosion that could blow still larger clouds of radioactive steam, water and debris into the atmosphere and ocean.

At least three nuclear explosions have already occurred, one of which may have involved criticality.

There’s no doubt at least two containments were breached very early in the crisis. Unit Four is cracked and sinking. The status of its used radioactive fuel pool, which has clearly caught fire, is uncertain.

Fukushima plus

Also unclear is the ability of the owners to sustain the stability of Units Five and Six, which were shut when the quake and tsunami hit. That stability depends on continued power to run fuel rod cooling systems, which could disappear amidst seismic aftershocks many believe are inevitable. A very substantial quake hit after the tremors that led to Indonesia’s devastating tsunami, and few doubt it could happen again—soon—at Fukushima.

All the above is dependent on reports controlled primarily by Tokyo Electric and the Japanese government. There’s every reason to believe the situation is worse than it seems, and that those in charge don’t really know the full of the extent of the damage or how to cope with it.

Just five years ago a quake shut seven nuclear reactors at Kashiwazaki. The entire nation of Japan sits on a wide range of fault lines. Tsunami is a Japanese word. But nuclear disaster doesn’t belong to them alone.

Radiation from Fukushima has long since been detected throughout the northern hemisphere, with health effects that will be debated forever.

Some fifty reactors still operate in Japan. According to some, the Japanese public has the legal right to shut them all. Let us pray they do. Yesterday.

On Los Alamos

A massive wildfire has swept at least to the outskirts of the national laboratory that was at the core of the program that built the atomic bomb. The first explosion irradiated a nearby valley on July 16, 1945. Then came the two that obliterated Hiroshima and Nagasaki. There are significant quantities of stored radioactive material in and around Los Alamos. How much there is, where it is, how badly it is threatened, and how much (if any) has already been engulfed in flames remains to be seen. Evacuations are underway.

Official reassurances are not reliable. Nor are estimates of the potential for radioactive fallout to spread throughout North America and beyond. This has all the signs of a stateside nuclear disaster in the making.

Vermont Yankee

Entergy, owner of the one nuclear reactor in Vermont, has sued to shred a solemn public contract.The one thing certain here is the company’s contempt for the sanctity of its own word.

Years ago Entergy Corporation sought official permits at Vermont Yankee Nuclear Power Station. It promised in return that the state could choose to shut the reactor on March 21, 2012, which it’s now chosen to do.

In recent years Vermont Yankee has spewed tritium into groundwater and the Connecticut River, in some cases from underground pipes whose existence the company denied. A cooling tower has collapsed. But the Nuclear Regulatory Commission has extended the reactor’s license and asked the federal Justice Department to intervene on behalf of the utility.

The request trashes any credibility retained by the NRC. The Commission was established in the mid 1970s to be a disinterested party on which the public could rely. For it to now take an interested stand on behalf of a corporate entity and reactor owner the Commission is bound to regulate contaminates its purpose and duty.

Entergy has sued so it can buy some $65 million in radioactive fuel the people of Vermont do not want burned on their land. This will go to the US Supreme Court, where the future legal sanctity of any and all public contracts signed by any corporation, nuclear or otherwise, may be determined.

On Nebraska

The flooding Missouri River continues to threaten at least two heartland reactors. Late reports indicate Cooper may still be running, with public assurances it could be shut very quickly. What might happen if the operators are a little bit late has not been explained.

Nor is there much to go on about the impacts of flooded cores and fuel cooling ponds on the Missouri and Mississippi Rivers or the eco-systems along the way to a Gulf of Mexico still reeling from BP’s toxic dose.

But an almost surreal set of circumstances surrounds the true nature of design specifications and protections in place (or not) at Ft. Calhoun. They may be best summarized by what happened to a “flood berm” meant to protect Ft. Calhoun. This huge rubberized water-filled sausage was sixteen feet at the base and eight feet high. But CNN has quoted a company representative as saying some sort of equipment “came in contact” with the berm and punctured it.

Not to worry: the “same level of protection is in place” as had been prior to the installation of the berm. In other words, the device was installed to protect the reactor. Then somebody punctured it. But things are as they were before so they must not have needed that berm in the first place. Got it?

It’s as yet unclear whether flood waters will continue to rise at these two reactors, whether the operators can protect them, and what will happen if they can’t.

The corporate media is carrying virtually zero coverage of any of the above stories. All are subject to rapid, dangerous changes about which we may have little reliable information.

Can government help?

But we do know for sure that US Senator Robert Casey, Jr. (D-PA) now wants to see more deeply into one of the key holes in the nuclear façade: evacuation. After Three Mile Island’s 1979 partial melt-down, new federal legislation allegedly gave states more power over how to get people out of the path of a melting nuke. But after an as-yet unopened Perry reactor was damaged by a 1986 earthquake, Ohio’s then-Governor Richard Celeste sued to keep Perry shut pending a state evacuation study. The NRC refused and won in federal court. Perry opened. Ohio’s official study then said evacuation was virtually impossible.

A quarter-century later, Casey wants to see what it might now take to move downwinders out of harm’s way from a TMI, Perry, Chernobyl, Fukushima, Vermont Yankee, Cooper, Ft. Calhoun…..you name it.

Casey’s being joined by New York Governor Andrew Cuomo, whose demands for the shut-down of Indian Point, 35 miles north of Manhattan, have left its owners “shaken.”  Cuomo and Casey might do well to join governors of states like Vermont, Massachusetts, California and others in testing the law on evacuation planning. Populations have vastly increased at virtually all US reactor sites since TMI. And the ugly realities that define the so-called “peaceful atom” are still making themselves all too apparent.

Whether the US will now turn with Germany, Japan, Italy, Switzerland, Israel and others away from atomic power and toward a green-powered Earth is up to us. The Solartopian technologies of wind, solar, tidal, geothermal, ocean thermal, bio-fuels, increased efficiency and conservation are now demonstrably cheaper, safer, cleaner, more reliable, more job-producing and quicker to install than anything atomic energy can promise.

A $36 billion nuclear loan guarantee give-away still mars the proposed 2012 federal budget. Constant pressure on Congress and the White House can kill that, and any other proposed funding for still more of these nightmares.

The stream of reactor disasters spewing from this dying industry is certain to escalate. The toll rises with each leak at Fukushima, every flame at Los Alamos, each legal brief at Vermont Yankee, every foot of Nebraska floodwater.

The need to stop the madness grows more desperate every day.

Cross posted from Solartopia.

–Harvey Wasserman for Transition Voice

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