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Japan nuclear disaster tops scale

From CNN:

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.

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SJC: State authorities may regulate water intake at nuclear plants

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.

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In Tennessee, Heat Waves Diminish Nuclear Power Output

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.

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Nuclear Regulatory Commission: Watchdog Or Lapdog?

From the New England Center for Investigative Reporting:

Internal government watchdogs and outside experts alike say the U.S. Nuclear Regulatory Commission is too lenient on the industry it is charged with regulating, often making decisions based on the industry’s profit margins rather than safety.

The charges are similar to complaints leveled against the Mine Health Safety Administration and the Minerals Management Service over the past year, after high-profile tragedies — the Upper Big Branch Mine collapse and the Deepwater Horizon spill — in the industries they are responsible for regulating.

In the wake of the events in Japan, there is a heightened sense of concern throughout the United States that a similar meltdown could occur, particularly in New England where reactors similar to those in Japan remain in operation.

Top nuclear industry officials maintain the public has nothing to fret about — that the NRC is a tough regulator that asks tough questions. NRC critics counter that the agency might ask tough questions, but is all too willing to accept easy answers.

Concerns about the NRC’s oversight are nothing new. A clear illustration is a series of reports issued since 2002 by the NRC’s internal inspector general and the U.S. General Accountability Office related to a near-catastrophe at Davis-Besse, a nuclear reactor on the shores of Lake Erie.

From those reports:

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Former Hill Stars Add Muscle to Nuclear Industry's Post-Japan Lobbying

From New York Times:

As a congressman, Rep. Robert Walker extolled the safety of nuclear power, arguing that technology prevented radiation poisoning during the meltdown at Three Mile Island.

He's buttressing nuclear again today, this time working from the inside. Retired from the House, the Pennsylvania Republican provides strategic advice to the trade group Nuclear Energy Institute.

Walker is one of more than 240 lobbyists for companies with nuclear interests who came through the government-to-industry revolving door.

A Greenwire analysis of companies involved in nuclear found that the overwhelming majority of their lobbyists previously worked on Capitol Hill or in a presidential administration. The portion ranges from a high of 83 percent at Energy Future Holdings Corp., which operates a Texas nuclear plant, to 69 percent at Entergy Corp., the country's second largest nuclear generator.

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NRC Thinks Japan Unit Pressure Vessel Damaged, Markey Says

From Bloomberg:

The Nuclear Regulatory Commission thinks the reactor in unit 2 of Japan’s disabled power plant got so hot it “probably melted through the reactor pressure vessel,” U.S. Representative Edward Markey said.

Martin Virgilio, the agency’s deputy director for reactor and preparedness programs, told reporters after a House hearing today that the commission doesn’t think the “core has breached,” which would let radiation escape. The commission gets reports several times a day from agency staff in Japan and none mentioned a breach, he said.

The pressure vessel is one line of defense preventing a larger radiation leak from Fukushima Dai-Ichi’s crippled reactors, where workers have sought to reconnect power to provide a steady supply of water.

“After you lose the vessel, then you are down to one final barrier, that’s the containment,” Virgilio told reporters.

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How Many Cancers Did Chernobyl Really Cause?

From the Union of Concerned Scientists:

There is a lot of confusion about how many excess cancer deaths will likely result from the 1986 Chernobyl accident in Ukraine. As we see below, 70,000 and 35,000 are reasonable estimates of the number of excess cancers and cancer deaths attributable to the accident.

Much lower numbers of cancers and deaths are often cited, but these are misleading because they only apply to those populations with the highest radiation exposures, and don’t take into account the larger numbers of people who were exposed to less radiation.

The discussion below is an expanded version of the discussion on page 15 in the 2007 UCS report Nuclear Power in a Warming World.

Perhaps the most authoritative report on the consequences of Chernobyl is Chernobyl´s Legacy: Health, Environmental and Socio-economic Impacts, released by the UN-sponsored Chernobyl Forum (September 5, 2005). According to this report (p. 15):

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