In the days after Japan’s Fukushima nuclear accident began, GlobalPost turned to Arnold Gundersen for an independent view of whether the reactors might melt down. A 39-year veteran of the nuclear industry, Gundersen has worked as a nuclear plant operator and served as an expert witness on the Three Mile Island accident. He is now chief engineer at Fairwinds Associates.
Back then, Gundersen said that the evidence suggested the accident was worse than authorities were revealing. This week, his assessment was shown to be accurate when Japan upgraded Fukushima to a 7, the worst possible rating for a nuclear accident.
So we contacted Gundersen again to get an update on Fukushima. In the following edited and condensed interview, Gundersen gives his expert view of what might happen, how authorities are handling the accident, and how Fukushima will affect health and the environment.
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Contact: Giselle Barry 202-225-2836, Eben Burnham-Snyder 202-225-6065
Markey: NRC Directing Secrecy in the Wake of Fukushima Meltdown
Limits Placed on Time, Scope, Transparency of Inspections Designed to Assess U.S. Vulnerability
WASHINGTON (April 15, 2011) – In the wake of the Fukushima disaster, the Nuclear Regulatory Commission (NRC) set out to inspect the U.S. fleet of nuclear reactors to ensure their safety and report publicly on its findings. Yet today, Rep. Edward J. Markey (D-Mass.) revealed that significant limits may be imposed on the inspections, and that inspectors also have been directed to keep many of the most serious vulnerabilities secret.
In a letter sent to Greg Jaczko, the Chairman of the Nuclear Regulatory Commission, Rep. Markey notes that he has been informed that inspectors are limited to 40 hours to check a nuclear power plant with only one unit, and 50-60 hours to check a plant with multiple units. Inspectors were also initially instructed to limit their inspections only to the adequacy of safety measures needed to respond to “Design Basis Events.” These inspections were therefore looking at the vulnerabilities to events that have already been contemplated and analyzed by the NRC, but not to many of the events that occurred in Fukushima which were previously considered to be impossible and therefore not subject to regulation. When NRC's own inspectors complained about this limitation, it was removed, but inspectors were then directed not to record any observations or findings of vulnerabilities that went beyond design-basis events in any document that would eventually become public as part of the NRC's review.
“These limitations, if true, severely undermine my confidence in the Commission’s interests in conducting a full and transparent assessment of the ability of U.S. nuclear power plants to be kept safe in the event of an incident that exceeds the current design basis assumptions regarding earthquakes or electricity outages -- such as the ones that occurred in Japan,” wrote Rep. Markey, who is the top Democrat on the Natural Resources Committee and a senior member of the Energy and Commerce Committee. “This also seems entirely at odds with the Commission-approved direction to study the implications of the Fukushima meltdown on U.S. facilities and report publicly on the findings of the study. We should stand prepared to learn from the catastrophe in Japan and plan ahead to address what was unforeseen but occurred anyway, rather than attempting to hide our vulnerabilities from public view and, potentially, use the fact that the information will be kept secret to avoid taking all necessary regulatory action.”
“The fact that they plan to keep the most serious vulnerabilities secret raises questions about whether the Nuclear Regulatory Commission is more interested in public relations than public safety,” said Rep. Markey in additional comments.
In the letter, Rep. Markey asks Chairman Jaczko and the NRC to respond to these reports, and ensure that the decision to hide some of the results from public view is reversed. Rep. Markey also asks whether U.S. nuclear power plants' vulnerability to events that are known or thought to have occurred in Japan – such as more severe earthquakes and tsunamis than expected, the melting of core nuclear fuel rods through the reactor pressure vessel, hydrogen explosions in reactor cores and spent nuclear fuel areas, long electricity outages and losses of cooling to reactor cores and spent nuclear fuel storage areas, and the failure of multiple safety systems and diagnostic capabilities – will be both analyzed and reported on publicly as the Commission was supposed to do.
The full letter is available HERE.
The 2011 off the Pacific coast of Tohoku Pacific Earthquake and the seismic damage to the NPPs
by the Nuclear and Industrial Safety Agency (NISA) and Japan Nuclear Energy Safety Organization (JNES)
EMERGENCY PETITION TO SUSPEND ALL PENDING REACTOR LICENSING DECISIONS AND RELATED RULEMAKING DECISIONS PENDING INVESTIGATION OF LESSONS LEARNED FROM FUKUSHIMA DAIICHI NUCLEAR POWER STATION ACCIDENT
From The Commons:
Robert “Jake” Stewart, one of the charter members of the New England Coalition on Nuclear Pollution (NEC), believes that the economic impact of Vermont Yankee’s closure cannot outweigh the consequences of a disaster at the plant. He also reminds people that the decommissioning process will require skilled employees.
But he said that, ultimately, people need to conserve energy.
“We need to stop the increase of energy use,” said Stewart, who worked with solar power in the 1970s, and remembers the Arab oil embargo and the gasoline shortages that ensued.
Stewart said new technologies exist that can help with conservation. People should also develop more “energy efficient systems,” and governments could provide more incentives to people developing alternative energy and technologies.
Call for NRC Licensing Suspension In Keeping with Response to Less Severe TMI Accident in 1979
WASHINGTON, D.C.///NEWS ADVISORY///Organizations from across the U.S. will announce Thursday at 11 a.m. EDT that they are formally petitioning the Nuclear Regulatory Commission to suspend, on an emergency basis, all pending U.S. nuclear reactor licensing decisions.
The petitioners will contend that before acting on any applications for new reactor construction permits or operating licenses, early site permits, renewed licenses for existing reactors, or design certification rulemakings for new reactors, the NRC should complete a full-“Three Mile Island style” investigation into the safety and environmental implications of the ongoing catastrophic nuclear facility accident at the Fukushima Daiichi Nuclear Power Station, Units 1-6 in Okumu, Japan.
The groups are concerned that the NRC’s “business as usual” approach to licensing, even going so far as to issue a renewed license for the Vermont Yankee reactor – which has the same boiling water reactor design as the Fukushima reactors – is completely inconsistent with the serious-minded review of U.S. nuclear power that took place after the Three Mile Island accident in 1979, when the NRC Commissioners suspended all licensing decisions until it had investigated the regulatory implications of the accident.
· Diane Curran, attorney, Harmon, Curran, Spielberg & Eisenberg, LLP;
· Sara Barczak, high risk energy director , Southern Alliance for Clean Energy, Savannah, GA;
· Jane Swanson, spokesperson, San Luis Obispo Mothers for Peace, San Luis Obispo, CA;
· Mary Lampert, director, Pilgrim Watch, Duxbury, MA; and
· Dr. Arjun Makhijani, president, Institute for Energy and Environmental Research (IEER), Takoma Park, MD.
TO PARTICIPATE: You can join this live, phone-based news conference (with full, two-way Q&A) at 11 a.m. EDT/8 a.m. PDT on April 14, 2011 by dialing 1 (800) 860-2442 in the U.S. Ask for the “U.S. nuclear licensing suspension” telenews event.
CAN'T PARTICIPATE?: A streaming audio replay of the news event will be available on the Web at http://www.psr.org/nuclear-bailout/ as of 4 p.m. EDT on April 14, 2011.
MEDIA CONTACT: Ailis Aaron Wolf, (703) 276-3265 or email@example.com.
Administrator Lisa P. Jackson, Testimony Before the U.S. Senate Committee on Environment and Public Works and Subcommittee on Clean Air and Nuclear SafetySubmitted by webEditor on Wed, 04/13/2011 - 15:34
Release date: 04/12/2011
Contact Information: EPA Press Office, firstname.lastname@example.org, 202-564-6794
As prepared for delivery.
Good morning, Madam Chairman, Chairman Carper and Members of the Committee. I am pleased to be here today to discuss EPA’s role in monitoring for radiation associated with the Fukushima Daiichi nuclear power plant emergency in Japan and the possible implications for the United States. Let me begin by expressing my sympathy for those who have lost loved ones from the earthquake and tsunami and my support to those who are working to control the radiation at the Fukushima Daiichi plant in Japan. Their efforts are selfless and deserve our recognition.
As part of its ongoing radiation monitoring program, EPA regularly monitors and tracks radiation and radionuclide releases into the environment in the United States. Monitoring allows us to track known releases and to watch for contaminants when there is an actual, potential, or unexpected release. In addition, EPA may bring monitoring equipment to the scene of an incident to look for localized radiation and to help protect people and the environment.
EPA’s nationwide radiation monitoring system, RadNet, contains 124 fixed, or stationary air monitors across the United States (of which, 122 are currently operational), and 40 deployable air monitors that can be sent to take readings anywhere in the United states or its territories. The RadNet network continuously monitors the nation’s air and regularly monitors drinking water, milk, and precipitation for a variety of radionuclides (e.g., iodine-131) and radiation types (e.g., gross gamma (γ)). The near-real-time air monitoring data is continuously reviewed by computer, and if the results show an unusual increase in radiation levels, EPA laboratory staff is alerted immediately and further analyzes additional data from the monitor. RadNet data provides a means to estimate levels of radioactivity in the environment, including background radiation as well as radioactive fallout from past atomic weapons testing, nuclear accidents, and other large-scale releases of radioactive materials. RadNet also provides the historical data needed to estimate long-term trends in environmental radiation levels.
In the event of a threat of a significant radiation release, EPA typically will increase the frequency of RadNet sampling and generate many more data records for a given period of time compared to its routine operation. As a result of the events at the Fukushima nuclear plant in Japan, several EPA monitors have detected very low levels of radioactive material in the United States consistent with releases from the damaged nuclear reactors. In an effort to provide additional geographic coverage to areas in close proximity to the releases in Japan, EPA shipped 8 deployable monitors to islands in the Pacific, including Guam and the Commonwealth of the Northern Mariana Islands, and the Western United States, including Hawaii, Idaho, and Alaska. EPA has also accelerated its monitoring of precipitation, milk, and drinking water in response to the radiation concerns from the Japanese nuclear reactors. While the detections in air, precipitation, and milk were expected, the levels detected have been far below levels of public-health concern.
EPA, along with the Nuclear Regulatory Commission, Department of Energy, Department of Defense, and the Department of Health and Human Services (FDA, CDC) are among the many federal agencies taking roles in monitoring and assessing radiation emissions from the Japanese nuclear facilities and modeling the potential dose assessments of radiation that might reach the United States. As part of the federal government’s ongoing effort to make our activities and science transparent and available to the public, EPA will continue to post all RadNet data in the current on-line database, accessible through the EPA website: www.epa.gov/japan2011. In the highly unlikely event that radiation levels begin to approach levels of concern for public health, the federal government will coordinate with state and local governments to ensure that public health and safety precautions are communicated to the public.
EPA’s RadNet radiation air monitors across the United States have shown typical fluctuations in background radiation levels. The levels detected are far below levels of concern. Results of EPA’s drinking water sampling, precipitation sampling, milk sampling, and air filter and cartridge analysis have detected very low levels of radioactive material consistent with releases from the damaged Japanese nuclear reactors.
Keep in mind that all of us are exposed to radiation every day, both from natural sources such as minerals in the ground, and from man-made sources such as medical x-rays. Scientists estimate that the average person in the United States receives a dose of about 310 millirem of radiation per year from natural background sources. Over the course of a lifetime, a person will average an additional ~300 millirem per year from medical procedures. The amount of radiation that will have an impact on a person’s health depends on the type of radiation and the sensitivity of the individual to the radiation exposure. Differences such as age, gender and even previous exposure are factors that might influence a person’s reaction to radiation exposure.
Air samples obtained through the RadNet system have, to date, contained very small amounts of iodine, cesium, and tellurium, which are consistent with possible releases from the damaged Japanese reactors. The largest amounts were found in samples from Alaska on March 19 and 24, 2011, but all of the radiation levels detected during the detailed filter analysis are hundreds of times below levels of concern.
Drinking water samples taken at various locations throughout the U.S. during the week of April 4, 2011, ranged from non-detects to trace amounts of iodine-131 – approximately 1.6 picocuries per liter (piC/L). (An infant would have to consume over 200 gallons of this water at the highest detection level 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.) Drinking water samples from across the country are currently being analyzed. After all data are appropriately reviewed, EPA will release analysis results and will post the results on our website.
Early precipitation samples collected by EPA indicated low levels of radioactivity. Given the sampling results in other environmental media, EPA expected to find very low levels of radiation in precipitation samples. Similar findings are to be expected in the coming weeks as radioactive materials are dispersed through the air from Japan. While the levels in some of the rainwater exceed the applicable Maximum Contaminant Level (MCL) of 3piC/L for drinking water, it is important to note that the corresponding MCL for iodine-131 was calculated based on long-term chronic exposures over the course of a lifetime 70 years. The levels seen in rainwater are expected to be relatively short in duration and are not expected to present any threat to public health.
Results from samples of milk taken March 28, 2011 in Phoenix, Arizona and Los Angeles, California showed approximately 3 pCi/L of iodine-131, which is more than 1,500 times lower than the Derived Intervention Level set by the U.S. Food and Drug Administration. These types of findings are to be expected in the coming days and are far below levels of public health concern, including for infants and children. Iodine-131 has a very short half-life of approximately eight days, and the level detected in milk and milk products is, therefore, expected to drop relatively quickly. Additional information about the broader federal response can be found at: http://www.usa.gov/Japan2011.
Since the events in Japan occurred, EPA’s website has had thousands of views and we have received many positive comments from the public on the information we have made available. The Agency will continue to provide monitoring results to the public in a very open and transparent manner. While we do not expect radiation from the damaged Japanese reactors to reach the United States at harmful levels, I want to assure you that EPA will continue our coordination with our federal partners to monitor the air, milk, precipitation and drinking water for any changes, and we will continue our outreach to the public and the elected officials to provide information on our monitoring results.
Madam Chairman, Mr. Chairman, thank you for the opportunity to testify. I welcome any questions you may have.
Japan's prime minister vowed to wind down the month-long crisis at the Fukushima Daiichi power plant "at all costs" Tuesday after his government officially designated the situation there a Chernobyl-level nuclear accident.
Prime Minister Naoto Kan said he wants the plant's owner, the Tokyo Electric Power Company, to produce a timetable for bringing the disaster to an end, "and they will be doing that soon." And a day after his government warned that thousands more people would need to be evacuated from the surrounding region, he pledged to provide jobs, housing and education for those uprooted by the accident.
"The government will not forsake the people who are suffering because of the nuclear accident," Kan told reporters in a Tuesday evening news conference.
From the Boston Herald:
Environmental authorities, arguing that water intake systems used by nuclear facilities kill “billions” of aquatic organisms each year, scored a victory Monday in Massachusetts’s highest court.
The Supreme Judicial Court, in a ruling authored by now-retired Justice Judith Cowin, said the Massachusetts Department of Environmental Protection has the authority to regulate water intake, rejecting an argument by Entergy Nuclear Generation Co. that the agency overstepped its authority.
Entergy, which operates Pilgrim Nuclear Power Station and draws water from Cape Cod Bay, had argued that DEP may only regulate nuclear “discharge” and other traditional forms of pollution, but that water intake was off limits. Entergy also claimed federal regulators pressured the state to regulate water intake.
From Climate Central:
On July 8, 2010, as the temperature in downtown Decatur, Alabama climbed to a sweltering 98°F, operators at the Browns Ferry nuclear power plant a few miles outside of town realized they had only one option to avoid violating their environmental permit: turn down the reactors. For days, the Tennessee Valley Authority (TVA), which owns the nuclear plant, had kept a watchful eye on the rising mercury, knowing that more heat outside could spell trouble inside the facility. When the Tennessee River, whose adjacent waters are used to cool the reactors, finally hit 90°F and forced Browns Ferry to run at only half of their regular power output, the TVA hoped the hot spell would last just a few days.
Eight weeks of unrelenting heat later, the plant was still running at half its capacity, robbing the grid of power it desperately needed when electicity demand from air conditions and fans was at its peak. The total cost of the lost power over that time? More than $50 million dollars, all of which was paid for by TVA’s customers in Tennessee.