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Renewable Energy

Nuclear Age: Another of Humanity's Disastrous Decisions

by Michelle Simon 17 Mar 2011
Nuclear Age: Another of Humanity's Disastrous Decisions

Fukushima Dai-ichi Nuclear Complex, Japan: Japan has suffered monumental destruction in the recent natural disaster; from the cumulative impacts of the high-ranking magnitude earthquake of 9.0 and the initial tsunami to consecutive days of continued natural disaster aftermaths with aftershocks, earthquakes and secondary tsunamis. If that hasn't ruined the country completely, irreversible toxic energy technology has created an environmental-health catastrophe with four nuclear reactors at Japan's Fukushima Nuclear Energy Complex exploding following the tsunami that rendered the cooling system unworkable. Japan is facing a nuclear disaster rated internationally as a level 6 in comparison with Level 7 for the Chernobyl disaster (Ukraine, 1986) and the Three Mile Island (USA, 1979) nuclear power plant rated as a level 5.

Fukushima I = Fukushima Daiichi, Fukushima II = Fukushima Daini

Japan's Nuclear Crisis

Disaster Day (DD) 1, Friday 11th March 2011 - The now updated magnitude EQ of 9.0 from 8.9 and tsunami severely damaged the nuclear plant, the Fukushima I Dai-ichi complex, cutting the supply of off-site power to the Fukushima Daiichi nuclear power plant. Diesel generators, the back-up electricity to the plant's cooling system were disabled by tsunami flooding.

Fukushima II Daini nuclear power plant - all four units Units 1, 2, 3 and 4 automatically shut down on 11 March.

DD 2, Saturday, 12th March 2011 - A state of emergency was declared after the explosion of a nuclear plant, the Fukushima I Nuclear Plant; at 12 March at 15:36 LT. The Japanese Prime Minister ordered the evacuation of residents living within 10 kilometres of the Fukushima Daini nuclear power plant and within 20 kilometres of the Fukushima Daiichi nuclear power plant.

DD 3, Sunday, 13th March 2011 - Japan's Nuclear and Industrial Safety Agency (NISA) reported that about 185 000 residents had been evacuated from the towns listed below as of 13 March 2011.

DD 4, Monday, 14th March 2011 - A hydrogen explosion occurred at Unit 3 at 11:01 LT (Local Time). All personnel at the site were accounted for. Six people have been injured. The reactor building exploded but the primary containment vessel was not damaged.

Water levels inside the Fukushima II Daiichi complex's No. 2 reactor reported as almost empty. TEPCO, owners of the nuclear plants, said that the nuclear fuel rods at the Fukushima Daiichi complex's No 2 reactor, where levels of water coolant around the reactor core had been reported as falling earlier in the day, are now fully exposed. Japanese authorities have safely cooled down two nuclear reactors at the Fukushima II Daini nuclear plant, close to another nuclear complex where they are still struggling to cool three overheating reactors. All three explosions were due to an accumulation of hydrogen gas.

DD 5, Tuesday, 15th March 2011 - a fire in the reactor building of unit 4 of the Fukushima II Daiichi nuclear power plant observed at 20:45 UTC.The surge in radiation was result of a Tuesday fire in the complex's Unit 4 reactor.

That blast is thought to have damaged the reactor's suppression chamber, a water-filled pipe outside the nuclear core that is part of the emergency cooling system.

Residents within a 30-km radius to take cover indoors and iodine tablets have been distributed to evacuation.

Officials had originally planned use helicopters and fire trucks to spray water in a desperate effort to prevent further radiation leaks and to cool down the reactors.

Radiation levels at the No 4 reactor of the Fukushima II Daiichi nuclear-power plant has become too high, TEPCO pulled out 750 workers from the plant and 50 remain; radioactivity was being released ''directly'' into the atmosphere. Radiation levels in the city of Maebashi, 100km north of Tokyo, are up to 10 times normal.

No-fly zone is established for a 30-km radius around the plant.About 150 persons from populations around the Daiichi site have received monitoring for radiation levels. The results of measurements on some of these people have been reported and measures to decontaminate 23 of them have been taken.

DD 6, Wednesday, 16th March 2011 - As many as 450,000 people are in temporary shelters.

There are six reactors at the plant, and the three that were operating at the time have been rocked by explosions. Japan's nuclear safety agency estimated that 70% of the rods have been damaged at the No 1 reactor. The outer housing of the containment vessel at the No 4 unit erupted in flames.

Japanese military helicopter dumps water onto a reactor at the stricken Fukushima nuclear power plant to cool fuel rods. South Korea plans to send an emergency shipment of cooling material to Japan. Fire crews were fighting a new blaze at the reactor had to be evacuated because of a rise in radiation levels

Occupational Hazards

Those facing the greatest risk of radiation contamination would be workers at the heart of the nuclear disaster working to avert further explosions and bring the plant under control. The management and control of this crisis also extends to the risk aversion helicopter pilots with water sprays, the search and Rescue pilots personnel, fire services and emergency personnel responding to the plants fires and the surrounding neighbourhoods.

Communities at Risk

The direct impact would of course be those in proximity to the plant, therefore the 10-20km radius evacuation and 'indoor-confinement' state of emergency. However, once radiation is emitted into the atmosphere, it knows no boundary and spreads according to meteorological condition determines. The hotspots still being closest to the geographical point release.

TEPCO's Track Record

The Tokyo Electric Power Co (TEPCO), a huge player in Japan's nuclear industry is not free of poor operating records. In 2002, nuclear safety records were under scrutiny due to suspected data falsification. Five reactors were shut-down for a period. In 2006, the government ordered TEPCO to check past data after it reported finding falsification of coolant water temperatures at its Fukushima Daiichi plant in 1985 and 1988. In 2005, inspection data was altered.

While the natural disaster impacts are not TEPCO's fault, one can't help but be extremely worried about the level of transparency in the data release during the close to reactor meltdown. Surely track records reflect a pattern of behaviour to avoid penalty. One hopes that TEPCO's onsite management and workers will disclose openly and transparency; considering that those actively trying to avert the meltdown are at critical radiation exposure levels.

Nuclear Radiation Impacts

In the case of nuclear plants air emissions are released to the air in the form of iodine cloud and cesium-137.

The following information deals with the known impacts from any nuclear radiation, results and data from the Fukushima nuclear disaster have yet to be accessed.

According to the EPA (2011):

Like all radionuclides, exposure to radiation from cesium-137 results in increased risk of cancer. Everyone is exposed to very small amounts of cesium-137 in soil and water as a result of atmospheric fallout. Exposure to waste materials, from contaminated sites, or from nuclear accidents can result in cancer risks much higher than typical environmental exposures. If exposures are very high, serious burns, and even death, can result. Instances of such exposure are very rare. One example of a high-exposure situation would be the mishandling a strong industrial cesium-137 source. The magnitude of the health risk depends on exposure conditions.

Radioactive iodine can cause thyroid problems, and help diagnose and treat thyroid problems. Long-term (chronic) exposure to radioactive iodine can cause nodules, or cancer of the thyroid. However, once thyroid cancer occurs, treatment with high doses of I-131 may be used to treat it. Doctors also use lower doses of I-131 to treat overactive thyroids. Low doses can reduce activity of the thyroid gland, lowering hormone production in the gland. Doctors must maintain the fine balance between the risks and benefits of using radioactive iodine. On one hand, this small, additional exposure may tip the balance in favor of cancer formation. On the other, this small additional exposure can restore health by slowing an overactive thyroid and improve health conditions.

Strontium-90 is chemically similar to calcium, and tends to deposit in bone and blood-forming tissue (bone marrow). Thus, strontium-90 is referred to as a ''bone seeker.'' Internal exposure to Sr-90 is linked to bone cancer, cancer of the soft tissue near the bone, and leukemia. Risk of cancer increases with increased exposure to Sr-90. The risk depends on the concentration of Sr-90 in the environment, and on the exposure conditions.

Nuclear Energy

Japan has 55 nuclear reactors providing approximately 30% of the country's electricity. Japan is a country with few natural resources and is highly dependent of the importation of primary energy raw material such as fossil fuels, fueling 66% of Japan's electricity in 1974. Japan took a decision around that time to focus on its nuclear energy industry.

Nuclear Age Disastrous Decisions

With 55 operating nuclear reactors, Japan still has plans for approximately 14 with an operational timeframe within 2012-2022.

Cleaner energy technology such as solar, wind and hydro power options are not prioritised. Prior to the recent tragedy, Japan's plans were to increase its nuclear energy to 41% by 2017, and 50% by 2030. Will this plan still hold?

In March 2002 the Japanese government announced that it would rely heavily on nuclear energy to achieve greenhouse gas emission reduction goals set by the Kyoto Protocol. It would seem that this is the greatest debate angle being punted by nuclear proponents. What they fail to disclose is what of the impacts in the entire 'cradle to grave' process of nuclear energy such as the raw material, uranium and the nuclear waste output and disposal.

Uranium Mining

Uranium for the nuclear process is imported from countries such as Canada, Australia, South Africa, Brazil, Kazakhstan, Namibia, Uzbekistan, Russia, USA and Niger.

Uranium mines like all mining processes have detrimental impacts to soil, water and life-forms from leachate contamination to groundwater, surface runoff to water systems. Seepage releases containing radioactive and toxic constituents. This has direct consequences for clean drinking water resources and biodiversity decimation. Other toxins include radon.The health hazard to uranium miners is extremely high with the risk of contracting lung cancer and respiratory problems. The waste rock piles release radioactive dust and radon gas into the environment. Tailings dam failures have in cases destroyed many houses in the town, killed people and lead to tragic water contamination issues.

Nuclear Waste

In 1995, Japan's first high-level waste (HLW) interim storage facility opened in Rokkasho-mura - the Vitrified Waste Storage Centre. ''In May 2000, the Japanese parliament passed the Law on Final Disposal of Specified Radioactive Waste (the ''Final Disposal Law'') which mandates deep geological disposal of high-level waste (defined as only vitrified waste from reprocessing spent reactor fuel). In line with this, the Nuclear Waste Management Organisation (NUMO) was set up in October 2000 by the private sector to progress plans for disposal, including site selection, demonstration of technology there, licensing, construction, operation, monitored retrievable storage for 50 years and closure of the repository. Some 40,000 canisters of vitrified HLW are envisaged by 2020, needing disposal - all the arisings from the Japanese nuclear plants until then (World Nuclear Agency, 2010).''

Geotechnical Feasibility - Self-Regulation

Japan Atomic Energy Agency (JAEA) conducts its own geosciences investigations for the storage of radioactive waste below the earth's surface e.g. JAEA runs the Tona Geoscience Centre at Toki, in Gifu prefecture.

My question is how is it that such toxic high-risk industry such as nuclear power plants located on seismically active zones and on the frontline coastal zones of tsunami impact? Standard environmental feasibility at both a technical and environmental-health level would have classified such locations as 'no go zones' for such high-risk facilities, and yet there are over 55 reactors in Japan.

Nuclear Dumps

Nuclear waste remains radioactive for thousands of years and the nuclear industry has not come up with a technological process to deal with this highly toxic waste and similarly as toxic chemical industry dump their waste in the ground, so does the nuclear industry. Assessing hazardous waste in general must include the risks involved in handling, containing, transport and storage of radioactive nuclear waste, the greatest risks being posed to the floor workers, the public and the natural environment.

Economic Fallout

Japan is the world's third largest economy and a major global trading partner but four days after the devastating Mega-trust Earthquake-Tsunami hit the country, the global economic consequences hit hard with panic selling on the stock markets following the post-natural disaster nuclear explosions. Investors throughout the globe are opting for safe-haven investments such as government bonds. Commodity prices and stocks took a dip since the weekend as panic spreads across the globe.

Nuclear Power Related Stocks:

KEPCO Engineering & Construction (Nuclear Power Plant Designer) - 14.7% (-)

KR Plant Service & Engineering (Maintains and operates nuclear plants) - 14.5%.(-)

Australian Uranium miners Energy Resources- 12.2%.(-)

Clean Renewable Energy Shares:

China's GCL Poly Energy - 4.3%.(+)

China Longyuan Power Group (wind power) - 1.7%.(+)

It is incredible sad that the consequences of the global choice by industry, government and multinationals to construct toxic polluting high-impact energy options such as nuclear energy are only recognised post-disaster when the pinch is felt in investors' pockets thousands of kilometres away from the radiation impacts. What of the innocent neighbouring communities, whom in all likelihood have neither funds to invest nor profit to gain from such high-risk radiation facilities? Their lives have been destroyed twice over, first by the EQ-Tsunami and then by long-term radiation impacts.

Industry's such as the motor industry and other manufacturing sector companies are down due to electricity cuts crippling the economy further after vital infrastructure and buildings crumbled. While Japan is still reeling with the loss of lives, the damage to the economy is going to deepen daily.

Future of the Nuclear Age

Japan's nuclear crisis has sent waves of fear across international states unsure of whether their pro-nuclear decisions are ill-fated.

Switzerland - has suspended the approvals process for three nuclear power station pending advanced safety standards.

Taiwan - is considering a cut to its nuclear power output.

Germany - has placed all nuclear decisions on hold.

USA - has ''put the brakes on'' new nuclear power plants until the impact of the incident in Japan became clear. President Obama has been a vociferous pro-nuclear proponent.

Korea Electric Power Corp (KEPCO) were quoted in the press as saying: ''The nuclear power industry is likely to shrink due to Japan's nuclear accident.''

The Nuclear Power Corporation of India Ltd (NPCIL) - are looking at a safety review.

Austria - have requested safety reviews of nuclear power plants across Europe.

Italy - Prime Minister Silvio Berlusconi another strong pro-nuclear proponent.

We have a responsibility as global citizens to view our planet beyond borders and rectify all our irresponsible toxic decisions and opt for cleaner energy solutions that protect our health and the natural environment. We have enough to deal with confronting natural disasters but we seem to reflect pure unintelligence in comparison to other species on the planet in that we create physical entities calculated to risk our lives and that of all life-forms.

Support for clean renewable energy efficiency is a must.

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