Conflicting Details Emerge About Status Of Japanese Nuclear Reactor

From Dow Jones Newswires:

There is conflicting information over what details U.S. officials know about a damaged Fukushima Daiichi nuclear reactor in Japan and the threat it poses.

On Wednesday, Rep. Ed Markey (D., Mass.) raised alarm bells when he claimed that the U.S. Nuclear Regulatory Commission believes the core of Fukushima's Unit Two had "gotten so hot that part of it has probably melted through the reactor pressure vessel."

If the reactor vessel has in fact been breached, it removes a line of defense in a set of barriers aimed at protecting the public. Shortly after Markey made this claim during a House hearing, however, a top U.S. nuclear official disputed the claim.

"That's not in the situation report that we have from the team in Japan," said Martin Virgilio, deputy executive director for reactor and preparedness programs at the Nuclear Regulatory Commission, while speaking to reporters Wednesday. " And that [report is] as of this morning."

Markey, a vocal critic of nuclear power, says a member of his staff received an e-mail Tuesday from an NRC official stating the core "may be out of the reactor pressure vessel."

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RADIATION EXPOSURE DEBATE RAGES INSIDE EPA — Plan to Radically Hike Post-Accident Radiation in Food & Water Sparks Hot Dissent

For Immediate Release: April 5, 2010
Contact: Kirsten Stade (202) 265-7337

Washington, DC — A plan awaiting approval by the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency that would dramatically increase permissible radioactive releases in drinking water, food and soil after “radiological incidents” is drawing vigorous objections from agency experts, according to agency documents released today by Public Employees for Environmental Responsibility (PEER). At issue is the acceptable level of public health risk following a radiation release, whether an accidental spill or a “dirty bomb” attack.

The radiation arm of EPA, called the Office of Radiation and Indoor Air (ORIA), has prepared an update of the 1992 “Protective Action Guides” (PAG) governing radiation protection decisions for both short-term and long-term cleanup standards. Other divisions within EPA contend the ORIA plan geometrically raises allowable exposure to the public. For example, as Charles Openchowski of EPA’s Office of General Counsel wrote in a January 23, 2009 e-mail to ORIA:

“[T]his guidance would allow cleanup levels that exceed MCLs [Maximum Contamination Limits under the Safe Drinking Water Act] by a factor of 100, 1000, and in two instances 7 million and there is nothing to prevent those levels from being the final cleanup achieved (i.e., it’s not confined to immediate response of emergency phase).”

Another EPA official, Stuart Walker of the Office of Superfund Remediation and Technology Innovation, explains what the proposed new radiation limits in drinking water would mean:

“It also appears that drinking water at the PAG concentrations…may lead to subchronic (acute) effects following exposures of a day or a week. In a population, one should see some express acute effects…that is vomiting, fever, etc.”

“This critical debate is taking place entirely behind closed doors because this plan is ‘guidance’ and does not require public notice as a regulation would,” stated PEER Counsel Christine Erickson. Today, PEER sent EPA Administrator Lisa Jackson a letter calling for a more open and broader examination of the proposed radiation guidance. “We all deserve to know why some in the agency want to legitimize exposing the public to radiation at levels vastly higher than what EPA officially considers dangerous.”

The internal documents show that under the updated PAG a single glass of water could give a lifetime’s permissible exposure. In addition, it would allow long-term cleanup limits thousands of times more lax than anything EPA has ever before accepted. These new limits would cause a cancer in as much as every fourth person exposed.

PEER obtained the internal e-mails after filing a lawsuit this past fall under the Freedom of Information Act (FOIA) but the EPA has yet to turn over thousands more communications. “EPA touts its new transparency but when it comes to matters of controversy the agency still puts up a wall,” added Erickson, who filed the FOIA suit. “Besides the months of stonewalling, we are seeing them pull stunts such as ORIA giving us rebuttals to other EPA documents they have yet to release.”

Safety of Vt. Nuclear Plant Cables Questioned

From National Public Radio:

Federal regulators knew when they renewed the Vermont Yankee nuclear plant's license last month that electrical cables serving key plant safety systems had been submerged in water for extended periods of time, Nuclear Regulatory Commission documents show.

A nuclear watchdog group says the issue has new urgency following the nuclear disaster in Japan, in which tsunami flooding knocked cooling systems out of service, causing reactors to overheat at the Fukushima Dai-ichi nuclear station.

An NRC report in December said 23 reactors around the country had electrical cable failures between 1988 and 2004, with nine more instances since 2007 of cables improperly being submerged in water.

"Because these cables are not designed or qualified for submerged or moist environments, the possibility that more than one cable could fail has increased," the report said. "This failure could disable safety-related accident mitigation systems."

The agency's documents show it has been concerned about submerged electrical cables at U.S. nuclear plants for years. The cables, usually housed in concrete boxes or small tunnels underground, get wet from rain, melting snow or groundwater, the NRC said.

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EPA STATEMENT: Update on Ongoing Monitoring

WASHINGTON – As a result of the incident with the Fukushima nuclear plant in Japan, several EPA air monitors have detected very low levels of radioactive material in the United States consistent with estimated releases from the damaged nuclear reactors. EPA has stepped up monitoring of precipitation, milk, and drinking water in response to the Fukushima events. The detections in air, precipitation, and milk were expected, and the levels detected have been far below levels of public-health concern.

Today, EPA released its latest RadNet results, which include the first results for drinking water. Drinking water samples from two locations, Boise, Idaho and Richland, Washington, showed trace amounts of Iodine-131 – about 0.2 picocuries per liter in each case. An infant would have to drink almost 7,000 liters of this water to receive a radiation dose equivalent to a day’s worth of the natural background radiation exposure we experience continuously from natural sources of radioactivity in our environment.

Earlier precipitation samples collected by EPA have shown trace amounts of radioactivity, so EPA has expected to find results such as these in some drinking water samples. Similar findings are to be expected in the coming weeks.

To see results from these samples, please visit:\japan2011\docs\rert\RadNet-Drinking-Water-Data-Public-Release-4-2-2011.pdf

In addition, results of EPA’s precipitation sampling and air filter analyses continue to detect very low levels of radioactive material consistent with estimated releases from the damaged nuclear reactors. These detections were expected and the levels detected are far below levels of public-health concern. For the latest sample results please visit:

For the latest air monitoring filter data:

For the latest milk sampling data:

For the latest precipitation sampling data:

The Fukushima Experiment

A nuclear meltdown survival guide

Japan's Tepco utility executives and government officials are alternately accused of covering-up, withholding information, or downplaying the severity of their nuclear accident.

Truth is, as many of us nuclear meltdown veterans know, those utility executives and officials are as much in the dark as the rest of us.

Disaster fuels debate over nuclear accident evacuation plans

From the Miami Herald:

Dead-center in hurricane alley, South Florida has probably performed more large-scale evacuations than any place in the country.

But a wind-borne cloud of radioactive isotopes represents a different monster, unseen but every bit as scary as a powerful cane. For emergency managers thrust into a crisis like the one in Japan, the concern would not be the few ignoring orders to leave Turkey Point’s 10-mile evacuation zone.

“The big issue is how many people will leave outside the evacuation zone,’’ said Jay Baker, a Florida State University geography professor and authority on evacuation behavior who conducted hazard response surveys for a state study last year. “No one knows, to be honest with you.’’

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New High-Res Photos of Fukushima

Cryptome has published hi-res photos of the Fukushima Daiichi Nuclear Plant.

U.S. Dropped Nuclear Rule Meant to Avert Hydrogen Explosions

From the New York Times:

The Nuclear Regulatory Commission has allowed reactors to phase out some equipment that eliminates explosive hydrogen, the gas that blew up the outer containments of three reactors at the Fukushima Daiichi in Japan. The commission says it judged that at the American plants, the containments were strong enough that the equipment was not needed or other methods would do.

After the Three Mile Island accident in 1979, many reactors were required to install “hydrogen recombiners,” which attach potentially explosive hydrogen atoms to oxygen to make water instead. At Three Mile Island, engineers learned that hot fuel could interact with steam to give off hydrogen. That caused the plant’s reactor to suffer a hydrogen explosion, although it did not seriously damage its containment. By contrast, the secondary containments at Fukushima Daiichi blew apart when hydrogen detonated inside them.

The change in commission policy was pointed out this week by a nuclear safety critic, Paul M. Blanch, who said that he had been involved in installing such equipment at Millstone 3, a nuclear reactor in Waterford, Conn.

“Post-Three Mile Island, they were considered very important to safety,’’ Mr. Blanch said. He accused the Nuclear Regulatory Commission of having “gutted the rule’’ because the industry wanted to save money.

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