Dave Lochbaum, Director of UCS’s Nuclear Safety Project, is testifying this morning to the Senate Energy and Natural Resources Committee. His testimony on the Japanese nuclear crisis and lessons for the U.S. is available here.
If the past three decades have demonstrated anything, it’s that the NRC will likely come up with a solid action plan to address problems revealed at Fukushima, but will be glacially slow in implementing those identified safety upgrades. A comprehensive action plan does little to protect Americans until its goals are achieved. We urge the US Congress to force the NRC to not merely chart a course to a safer place, but actually reach that destination as soon as possible.
Japan's unfolding nuclear disaster has introduced Americans to the confusing practice of measuring radiation exposure. According to some stories, the water nearby to the No. 2 Fukushima reactor has a radioactivity level of 1,000 millisieverts per hour. But other articles describe radiation levels in terms of millirem per year. And a few sources have referred to exposure in terms of millirad or nanogray per hour. Why don't all radiation experts just use the same unit?
Because some people are afraid to switch to the metric system. As with distance, weight, and temperature, doses of radiation can be expressed in either SI units (sieverts) or U.S. customary units (rem). U.S. scientists and engineers in most fields had switched to metric units by 1964, when the National Bureau of Standards (now the National Institute of Standards and Technology) officially adopted the international system. But nuclear physicists never made the full switcheroo. That's because a wholesale change in measurement could lead to mistakes, at least during the transition—and even a small mistake can be very dangerous when it comes to radiation exposure. (There is an historical argument for being cautious: In 1999, NASA lost contact with the Mars Climate Orbiter because of a mix-up between metric and customary units [PDF].) On the basis of this concern, the U.S. Nuclear Regulatory Commission still requires plants to report radiation releases in rem, while the rest of the world uses sieverts. For the record, one rem is equivalent to one-hundredth of a sievert.
From All Things Nuclear:
It’s difficult to make any sense of the data being reported from various quarters regarding dose rates and contamination levels at varying distances from the Fukushima Dai-Ichi nuclear plant.
The International Atomic Energy Agency (IAEA) could do a public service by establishing a consistent reporting framework so the public can assess whether radionuclide release rates are changing, and in what direction. However, its daily updates are only adding to the confusion.
Today, the daily update appears to show a significant upward trend in reported contamination levels. However, because it is not clear exactly where the measurements are being taken, one cannot do an apples-to-apples comparison.
For instance, in its March 27 update the IAEA reports that the highest level of daily deposition of iodine-131 was measured on March 26 at 7,500 becquerels per square meter (Bq/sq. m) in Yamagata prefecture; for cesium-137, it was reported as 1,200 Bq/sq. m. (Actually, the statement does not make clear if these are daily rates or total cumulative deposition levels, although from the context it appears to be the former.)
Governor Corbett says Public Water Supply Testing Finds No Risk to Public from Radioactivity Found in RainwaterSubmitted by webEditor on Tue, 03/29/2011 - 10:18
COMMONWEALTH OF PENNSYLVANIA
Dept. of Environmental Protection
Commonwealth News Bureau
Room 308, Main Capitol Building
Harrisburg PA., 17120
FOR IMMEDIATE RELEASE
HARRISBURG -- Governor Tom Corbett today said weekend testing of public drinking water found no elevated levels of radioactivity.
On Friday, concentrations of Iodine-131, likely originating from the events at Japan’s damaged nuclear plants, were found in rainwater samples collected from Pennsylvania’s nuclear power plant facilities.
The numbers reported in the rainwater samples in Pennsylvania range from 40-100 picocuries per liter (pCi/L). Although these are levels above the background levels historically reported in these areas, they are still about 25 times below the level that would be of concern. The federal drinking water standard for Iodine-131 is three pCi/L.
As a result of the findings, Corbett immediately ordered the Department of Environmental Protection’s Bureau of Water Quality, Radiation Protection and Laboratories to test the drinking water from six regions in the state.
Samples were taken from facilities in Norristown, East Stroudsburg, Harrisburg, Williamsport, Greenville and Pittsburgh. After repeated testing throughout the weekend, results showed normal levels of radioactivity and no Iodine-131 above the federal limit. In fact, no Iodine-131 was detected in the drinking water samples.
“We have been proactive and conducted immediate drinking water tests to provide hard facts, assuring the public that the water they drink is safe,’’ Corbett said.
On Friday, rainwater samples were taken in Harrisburg, where levels were 41 pCi/L and at nuclear power plants at TMI and Limerick, where levels were 90 to 100 pCi/L.
Corbett emphasized that the drinking water is safe and there is no cause for health concerns. State officials will continue to carefully monitor the situation, Corbett said, and will keep the public informed.
“Rainwater is not typically directly consumed,’’ Corbett said. “However, people might get alarmed by making what would be an inappropriate connection from rainwater to drinking water. By testing the drinking water, we can assure people that the water is safe.’’
Rainwater is diluted by water in reservoirs and rivers or filters through the ground - and it is treated before reaching consumers as drinking water - it would not be expected to be a concern in public water systems.
While the radioactive element is believed to have originated from Japan’s damaged Fukushima Daiichi nuclear power plant, it is not considered to be a health risk in Pennsylvania or anywhere else in the country. Similar testing in other states, including California, Massachusetts and Washington, has shown comparable levels of Iodine-131 in rainwater samples.
“We do not expect the levels to increase and, in fact, the levels we see now should go down rather quickly over the next three months,’’ Corbett said.
“DEP has an extensive network of radiation monitoring points at the nuclear plants and elsewhere, and we will continue to monitor water supplies to ensure there is no risk of contamination to the public,’’ Corbett added.
Any Iodine-131 concentrations detected in rainwater samples are significantly higher than might be detected in a surface body of water, such as a lake or a pond.
Air quality is also being examined and test results are expected later this week. As soon as results are available, Corbett said, they will be made public.
DEP will continue to work with Pennsylvania’s public water suppliers to enhance their monitoring and treatment operations as necessary. Residents whose drinking water originates from groundwater, and obtained from wells or springs, should not be affected.
DEP’s Bureau of Radiation Protection is in regular contact with the Nuclear Regulatory Commission and Environmental Protection Agency, while the Department of Health is in contact with Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, and other states tracking Japan-related issues.
Pennsylvania residents should not take potassium iodide (KI) pills, Corbett advised. The pills are to be taken only during a specific emergency and only at the recommendation of public health officials or the governor.
“Taking KI now is unnecessary under the circumstances and could cause harmful side effects,” said Corbett. “Although usually harmless, it can present a danger to people with allergies to iodine or shellfish, or those who have thyroid problems.”
Additionally, the elevated levels of radioactivity found in the rainwater on Friday were still well below levels that could pose any harm to pets or livestock.
“Ironically, today marks the 32nd anniversary of the accident at Three Mile Island nuclear power plant,’
SUMMARY OF MARCH 14, 2011, MEETING WITH EXELON TO DISCUSS PROPOSED MAIN STEAM SAFETY VALVE LICENSE AMENDMENT REQUEST (TAC NO. ME4808)
There is no safe dose of radiation.
We do not x-ray pregnant women.
Any detectable fallout can kill.
With erratic radiation spikes, major air and water emissions and at least three reactors and waste pools in serious danger at Fukushima, we must prepare for the worst.
When you hear the terms "safe" and "insignificant" in reference to radioactive fallout, ask yourself: "Safe for whom?" "Insignificant to which of us?"
Despite the corporate media, what has and will continue to come here from Fukushima is deadly to Americans. At very least it threatens countless embryos and fetuses in utero, the infants, the elderly, the unborn who will come to future mothers now being exposed. (http://nukefree.org/arnie-gundersen-radiation-dangers )
No matter how small the dose, the human egg in waiting, or embryo or fetus in utero, or newborn infant, or weakened elder, has no defense against even the tiniest radioactive assault.
Science has never found such a “safe” threshold, and never will.
In the 1950s Dr. Alice Stewart showed a definitive link between medical x-rays administered to pregnant women and the curse of childhood leukemia among their offspring.
After a fierce 30-year debate, the medical profession agreed. Today, administering an x-ray to a pregnant woman is universally understood to be a serious health hazard.
Those who pioneered the health physics profession---towering greats like Dr. Karl Z.Morgan and Dr. John Gofman---set a definitive, impenetrable standard. A safe dose of radiation does not exist. All doses, “insignificant” or otherwise, can harm the human organism.
That has been repeatedly shown in major studies---done most notably by Dr. ErnestSternglass, Jay Gould, Joe Mangano, Arnie Gundersen, Dr. Steven Wing (http://nukefree.org/tmia-bloomberg-dr-ed-lyman-developments-fukushima )and others---showing that among human populations near commercial reactors, infant death rates plummet once the reactors shut down.
In 1979, 32 years ago this March 28, the owners of Three Mile Island said therewas no meltdown, no serious radiation release and no need for evacuation.
All were lies.
To this day no one knows how much radiation was released or where it went or who it killed.
TMI’s owners ran ads dismissing the emissions as the equivalent of a single chest x-ray given to everyone within a ten mile radius.
But that included all the pregnant women.
Soon infant death rates soared in nearby Harrisburg. Some 2400 central Pennsylvania families sued based on the health impacts.
In 1980 I interviewed dozens of these people. Cancer, leukemia, birth defects, stillbirths, sterility, malformations, open lesions, hair loss, a metallic taste and much more were among the symptoms. (http://www.loran-history.info/health/Killing_Our_Own.pdf )
The death and mutation rate among farm and wild animals was also thoroughly documented by the Pennsylvania Department of Agriculture and a team of investigators from the Baltimore News-American.
We were again told there were “no health dangers” from radiation that hit California from Chernobyl ten days after that 1986 explosion. But bird births at the Point Reyes National Seashore quickly dropped 60% from the levels that had been carefully monitored and recorded through the previous decade.
The cloud then crossed the northern tier of the United States. Heightened radiation levels were found in milk in New England---as they were throughout Europe from clouds that had blown from Chernobyl in the other direction.
The doses were neither “insignificant” nor “safe” to those far or near.
In Russia ten years later, I interviewed dozens of downwind victims, and many of the 800,000 “liquidators” who ran into Chernobyl’s seething corpse to helpclean it up. After TMI, it was déjà vu all over again.
The most recently published findings, from a compendium of more than 5,000 studies,indicate a global Chernobyl death toll in excess of 985,000, and still counting. ( http://www.nukefree.org/node/1828 ).
Today we are assaulted by yet another radioactive death cloud from yet another“perfectly safe” nuclear plant.
Fukushima’s radiation is pouring into the air and water. The operators have reported radiation levels a million times normal, then retracted the estimate to a "mere" 100,000. Workers are being exposed to doses that are certain to be lethal. At least three of the reactors, and one or more of the spent fuel pools, hover at the brink of catastrophe.
Fukushima’s radiation has now been detected in Los Angeles and Sacramento, and has blown east across North America. It has also been detected in Sweden, which means it's blowing across Europe as well.
Radiationis not being released as a single puff. Rather it's a steady stream thatcould yet turn into a tsunami.
Fukushima’s worst may be yet to come. Its collective emissions are virtually certain to exceed Chernobyl’s.
And yet we continue to hear smug, misinformed “experts,” TV meteorologists and industry talking heads saying these are “safe” doses.
The response of the Obama Administration has been beyond derelict. As the accident began, the President went on national television to assure us there was nothing to worry about, and that he would continue to demand $36 billion in loan guarantees to build new nuclear plants.
Since then, even as the Fukushima crisis mounts, President Obama has remained silent.
Millions of Americans have heard about potassium iodide (KI), which can be used block the uptake of radioactive iodine and perhaps protect the thyroid.
But KI can have potential medical side-effects for some individuals. And timing can be critical. To say the least, we need to know when the radioactive fallout is present.
Yet the administration has not provided us with a national supply of KI, or guidance for using it.
At very least we need reliable real-time mapping of the radioactive clouds as they cross the nation. Every American should be issued a mask, and sufficient KI pills with directions on how to use them, if necessary.
Above all, we need national leadership that puts the health of our people first and foremost.
Americans who are of reproductive age---and their unborn, our babies, the elderly, those of us who may be specially sensitive---we all deserve better.
As we have learned so tragically from Drs. Stewart, Morgan, Gofman and Sternglass, from Gundersen and Mangano and so many other researchers, from TMI and Chernobyl, and from the on-going operation of nuclear plants where infant death rates continue to be affected---a “perfectly safe” dose of radiation does not exist.
No truly informed or responsible scientist, medical doctor, health researcher, TV weatherman, bloviating “expert” or on-the scene reporter would ever tell you otherwise.
Whenever you hear the term “insignificant” fallout, ask yourself: “insignificant to whom?”
“Acceptable” to which expectant mother? To whose child? To how many mourning parents? For which dying elder?
Nuclear reactors make global warming worse and prolong our addiction to fossil fuels. They stand in the way of our transition to a totally green-powered Earth.
As we continue to learn at such a huge cost, there can never be a “perfectly safe” nuclear reactor, any more than there can be a “perfectly harmless” dose of radiation.
“Impossible” accidents continue to happen, one after the other, each of them successively worse.
What we fear most about TMI, then Chernobyl and now Fukushima, is not what has happened---but what is yet to come, there, and at the next inevitable reactor disaster.
We are a pro-life movement.
March 27, 2011,
It has been more than two weeks since the earthquake and tsunami struck Japan, triggering an unparalleled nuclear crisis that shows no signs of abating.
While a few days ago, utility officials claimed the situation at Fukushima had at least been stabilized, what we are seeing in reality are continued extraordinarily high levels of radation at the plant site and continued high levels even outside the expanded evacuation zone. We are continuing to post updates on our website: www.nirs.org.
Our response to this disaster has been on many fronts:
*We have expanded our efforts to end taxpayer subsidies for new reactors in the U.S. If we can cut off their gouging of U.S. taxpayers to pay for their failed nuclear dream, we can ensure that no new reactors will be built. We have ads running (thanks to your donations!) on Mother Jones and Alternet leading to our action page. Yet not everyone even on this list has taken action. If you haven't, please do so now. And if you have, please take a moment to share the action page via e-mail, Facebook and other networking sites. 74% of the American people now want an end to taxpayer loans for new reactors. But Congress isn't going to do that unless they hear from all of us. We can end this funding if we all act.
*We have begun a new campaign to permanently close the 23 General Electric Mark I reactors that are carbon copies of those at Fukushima. Top safety officials have warned for 40 years that these reactors would fail under accident conditions. Unfortunately, those officials have been proven right. If you haven't taken action on this campaign yet, please do so now. And, again, please help spread the word.
*We are supporting Greenpeace in their call for vigils tomorrow, Monday, March 28--the anniversary of the Three Mile Island accident, across the country. We hope everyone will attend one of these. You can find the vigil closest to you here.
*We are calling for new actions in April across the country, joining with our colleagues across the world to commemorate the Chernobyl catastrophe (April 26) and to say to the world: No More Fukushimas. Rallies and other actions are being planned: if your group is planning one, please let us know. We will set up a master list on our website to help in organizing. We want to especially note today an April 16 rally at Diablo Canyon, being sponsored by Mothers for Peace and endorsed by NIRS. We hope everyone in California will be there. More details soon.
*We have sent five radiation monitors to Japan for independent monitoring and software to allow monitoring data to be posted on the internet; we hope to send more.
*We, along with Friends of the Earth and Physicians for Social Reponsibility, have filed a Freedom of Information Act demand for speedy release of radiation data at Fukushima taken by the U.S. government.
*We have done press conferences, multitudes of media interviews and appearances, and much, much more.
And we have sponsored three national grassroots conference calls to think about and talk about our next steps. From those calls and conversations, we have developed a new Post-Fukushima Program for Increased Nuclear Security and Safety in the U.S. We have posted it and a petition here.
We now seek your support for this program. If you are an individual, you may sign the petition in support here. If you can sign on for an organization, we ask that you e-mail your name, organization, city and state (and country if outside the U.S.) to us at email@example.com. We are contemplating taking out a large ad in a progressive publication to state this program and list supporters as a means of furthering debate and action. It is our intent that grassroots groups can use this program in your local and regional work--and point to a large and growing support for its principles.
This is no time to be timid. NIRS has worked for more than 30 years to prevent nuclear disasters--the kind the nuclear industry and governments have told us happen only once every 10,000 years. They lied. Instead, they average about once every ten years. We couldn't prevent Three Mile Island; we couldn't prevent Chernobyl; we couldn't prevent Fukushima. We must prevent the next one. It could happen next decade, next year, next month, tomorrow. So we must act now.
Your contributions remain critical. We are working non-stop to expand our efforts on all fronts. We need more staff to meet the vastly increased demand and hope to be hiring soon. We thank all of you who have contributed so generously this month; if you haven't contributed yet, we hope you will now. If you don't want to give online, please send your donation to NIRS, 6930 Carroll Avenue, Suite 340, Takoma Park, MD 20912.
It truly is time to end the nuclear age, and bring in a safe, clean and affordable nuclear-free, carbon-free energy future.
Thanks for all you do,
Fukushima, March 27, 2011: Greenpeace radiation experts have confirmed radiation levels of up to ten micro Sieverts per hour (1) in Iitate village, 40km northwest of the crisis-stricken Fukushima/Daiichi nuclear plant, and 20km (2) beyond the official evacuation zone. These levels are high enough to require evacuation.
“The Japanese authorities are fully aware (3) that high levels of radiation from the stricken Fukushima nuclear plant have spread far beyond the official evacuation zone to places like Iitate, yet are still not taking action to properly protect people or keep them informed them about the risks to their health”, said Greenpeace radiation safety expert Jan van de Putte.
“It is clearly not safe for people to remain in Iitate, especially children and pregnant women, when it could mean receiving the maximum allowed annual dose of radiation in only a few days. When further contamination from possible ingestion or inhalation of radioactive particles is factored in, the risks are even higher.”
“The authorities must stop choosing politics over science and determine evacuation zones around the Fukushima nuclear plant that reflect the radiation levels being found in the environment. In addition to coming clean on the true dangers of the current nuclear crisis, the smartest move for Japan and governments around the world is heavily invest in energy efficiency, and redouble their efforts to harness safe and secure renewable energy sources.”
Take action to eliminate risky loan guarantees for new reactors!