The nuclear accident at Fukushima Japan is far from over. Three reactors continue to melt-down and now there is a storm of international worry about nuclear fuel pools tottering in blown up buildings. The whole Northern Hemisphere is at risk right now.
I'm Alex Smith for Radio Ecoshock. We are joined again by nuclear industry expert Arnold Gundersen, of Fairewinds Associates.
Arnie Gundersen, a year ago, warned us here on Radio Ecoshock, and to anybody who would listen, that a world-scale catastrophe was lurking in the nuclear fuel storage pools of both reactors Three and Four, at the Fukushima Dai-ichi plant in Japan.
Why is this story finally getting wider attention, a year later?
The Japanese press, which has been following the government line, is starting to break out. On April 2nd, Takao Yamada, Expert Senior Writer for the Mainichi paper, said, quote: "The 7-story building itself has suffered great damage, with the storage pool barely intact on the building’s third and fourth floors. The roof has been blown away. If the storage pool breaks and runs dry, the nuclear fuel inside will overheat and explode, causing a massive amount of radioactive substances to spread over a wide area. Both the U.S. Nuclear Regulatory Commission (NRC) and French nuclear energy company Areva have warned about this risk."
We also had the unusual case of Japan’s former ambassador to Switzerland, Mitsuhei Murata, speaking at a public hearing of the Budgetary Committee of the House of Councilors on March 22, 2012. He told the Swiss if the Reactor 4 fuel pool collapses, the cooling water for all six reactors would be shut down, as well as for the nearby spent fuel pool with another 6,000 fuel rods.
Another Japanese diplomat, Akio Matsumura is also blogging about this.
It is very surprising that Japanese officials are speaking out. Why now? Do they know something we don't?
It seems to me, and many Radio Ecoshock listeners from all over the world have written me about this - that the whole world is sleep-walking through this potential global catastrophe. They want to know: Why isn't there an international emergency action plan, to save us from a nuclear disaster which would make Chernobyl look small in comparison?
The average person thinks the Japanese could just dig an in-ground pool, move the fuel rods into a safer place, and then cover all that with a containment building. Why aren't they doing that?
So we have debris over the fuel rods, a broken crane, broken fuel rod assemblies, and a building so shaky any attempts to fix things might cause the building to fall. Is it possible we have a situation which cannot be solved?
Over at MSNBC, Rachel Maddow says Reactor 2 is an example of a technology which has no solution. Humans can't get near such high radioactivity. Even robot electronics fail in such circumstances. The Japanese require a technology that hasn't been invented yet. Should we even be using nuclear technology, if unsolvable accidents can happen?
It is time to think the unthinkable. Arnie walks us through what could happen if we wake up one day, and the Fukushima Dai-ichi Reactor 4 fuel pool collapses.
Arnie tells us the Brookhaven National Laboratory in the U.S. issued a study on the impacts of a nuclear fuel pool fire.
Here is a good article summary of that 1987 Brookhaven study by Stuart Staniford.
In this article from the New England Centre for Investigative Reporting, we find "A 1997 [actually it was 1987] study by the Brookhaven National Laboratory on Long Island concluded that a pool fire at a plant like Millstone Nuclear Power Station in Connecticut or Pilgrim Nuclear Generating Station in Massachusetts could kill 100 people instantly and another 138,000 people eventually. Some $546 billion in damage would result, the study said, and 2,170 square miles of land could be contaminated."
From the selfish point of view of someone living on the West Coast of North America, and for everyone in the Northern Hemisphere, it seems the key point is whether there is a major explosion, driving radioactive materials into the stratosphere. That's what it takes to spread these poisons right around the world.
Gundersen says it is unlikely there would be an explosion if the #4 Fuel pool collapses. But dangerous "hot" particles would still be sent around the world, because within two days of the collapse, the Zirconium and radioactive metals (like Cesium and Plutonium) would burn at a very high temperature, sending particles high into the air. The result would be an everlasting disaster for Japan. Arnie thinks it could create a no-man's land 50 miles across the country, perhaps destabilizing the government.
The famous anti-nuclear activist and pediatrician Dr. Helen Caldicott just said in a speech: if there is a major nuclear release from Fukushima, she would evacuate her family from Boston, and head back to her native Australia, or anywhere in the Southern Hemisphere. Would it be safer south of the equator? Likely, as there is much less mixing of air from the Northern Hemisphere to the Southern. All the countries in the Northern Hemisphere would suffer radioactive fallout if this happens.
We can't evacuate the Northern Hemisphere. The explosion at Reactor 3 showed we have 5 to 7 days before radiation hits the Pacific Coast of North America. Personally, I would definitely leave Vancouver. We get a lot of rain here, so the hot stuff is going to wash into our open water reservoirs. They would be poisoned for hundreds of years. I would try to get east of the Rocky Mountains, to a drier place, with a source of fossil water from deep underground.
What would you do?
In the 1950's, all children were trained in civil defense in case of nuclear attack. It was lame, but it was something. Do you think world governments should be teaching everyone the basics of trying to avoid the worst exposure to radiation, in case Fukushima blows? We would all have to stay indoors, with the windows shut. You should buy a couple of HEPA air cleaners right now, I think. The economy would collapse. Do you have food stored for such an emergency? I hope so.
Surely there must be a better way to reduce our risk of having an accident that would damage the Planet more or less forever in human timescales. What can be done at Fukushima?
Arnie says the nuclear power game is set up so each country handles safety and any accident as an internal affair. But when an accident threatens us all, we need to pressure our own governments to formulate an international response, to help the Japanese acts as fast as they can.
In the interview, Arnie Gundersen, who was an executive at a company which installed nuclear fuel racks in those very same types of reactors, lays out three ways to handle this emergency. None of them are great, but his suggestion to make a smaller fuel canister, and start moving the rods out to an already existing in-ground pool on the site, sounds best to me. It would be slow and painstaking, but would begin to make us all safer every day.
Maybe an earthquake won't strike near Fukushima in the next few years. However, on February 14th, Dapeng Zhao, geophysics professor at Japan’s Tohoku University, published a paper in "Solid Earth", a journal of the European Geosciences Union.
Here is a good article summarizing that paper, in Common Dreams.
Zhao said the giant earthquake in March of 2011 had reactivated a seismic fault close to the Fukushima nuclear plant. Using the latest scientific techniques and measurements, the paper warns another big earthquake could strike even closer to the plant.
Washington's blog concludes "Scientists say that there is a 70% chance of a magnitude 7.0 earthquake hitting Fukushima this year, and a 98% chance within the next 3 years."
In a radio interview with Dr. Helen Caldicott in early February, Gundersen estimated a quake of 7.0 or greater could cause the Reactor 4 fuel pool to collapse.
What have the Japanese done so far to strengthen the building, and could they be doing more?
We have to remind ourselves, we might just get lucky. Maybe the Reactor 3 and 4 buildings will keep standing for few years, while the Japanese invent a solution. We didn't have a major nuclear war so far, maybe we'll squeak through this one. But are our chances good, or not so good, the way things are going?
Robert Alvarez, an expert with the Union of Concerned Scientists, has tried again and again to warn us: this isn't just a problem in Japan. The American reactors have built up even more stored fuel rods, some of them over earthquake fault lines, all of them requiring non-stop cooling, and none of the storage pools have containment if there is an accident.
The spent fuel risk in America is even greater in Japan. Why is no one talking about this?
Arnie Gundersen has not heard of government meetings or plans to get faster action to protect the world against yet another giant nuclear catastrophe at Fukushima. We need citizens organizing everywhere, pushing their governments to stop ignoring the threat, or playing along with Japan, to stop being polite about the danger. I'm sure many people in Japan would welcome international pressure to get faster action.
We could compare this reactor accident to the horror of thermo-nuclear war, hanging over our heads. It took a generation of protests, and a fallen empire, to reduce that threat. A nuclear war is still possible, but it's less likely.
But we don't have a long-time frame, 30 years, to stabilize the Reactor 4 fuel storage pond. I'm surprised we got through this year, and I'm not sure about the next one. Can we scrape through again?
Listen to/download the Arnie Gundersen interview (26 minutes) in CD Quality... or Lo-Fi.
THE SCANDAL OF THE TAR SANDS
I'm Alex Smith and I'm angry. There are lots of sick and ugly things in this world, along with tremendous beauty and love. But there are two giant projects which I know offend God, if there is one.
The first is blowing the tops of mountains, and plowing the rubble into Nature's valleys. The second is the largest and most polluting industrial project on Earth: the Canadian Tar Sands.
The big oil companies are spending millions, even hundreds of millions of dollars, to convince you they produce what they call "ethical oil". It's everywhere. News columnists blather on about the wonderful "oil sands" and why we can't live without them. Never mind the full page ads from tar sands companies in the same newspapers.
I can't even go to a movie without seeing Hollywood-quality ads with butterflies and forests all around the new clean green Tar Sands operations.
Here is the other side of the story - a quick clip of a talk by Mike Mercredi, an aboriginal man from Fort Chipewyan, downstream from the Tar Sands.
(In the audio, Mike lists out his relatives that are dead or dying of cancer, which was unknown to them in previous generations, before the Tar Sands came upstream of their drinking water and fishing grounds)
I recorded that in 2008, when we had no experts to back him up. Listen to the whole Radio Ecoshock program "Climate Terrorism: The Tar Sands" 3 speakers recorded December 5th in Vancouver, listed on our 2008 show archive page at ecoshock.org.
As you will hear in this program, they are lying about being able to reclaim land to their former natural state. The oil companies and the governments who collude with them are faking and hiding the health effects.
The whole tar sands operation is a world-scale Ponzi scheme which will bankrupt future generations with the costs of clean-up, - if any remediation is possible. Or they will do what most mining companies do: leave a massive open scar upon the earth, all for the quick quarterly profits of foreign multinationals.
Why says so? According to Canadian Prime Minister Stephen Harper, and his Environment Minister, anyone who criticizes the Tar Sands is just a foreign-funded radical - unpatriotic environmentalists.
Let's meet one of those radicals. Here is the introduction to Dr. David Schindler, before his speech in Vancouver, on March 28th, 2012. The intro is by John Pierce, Dean, Faculty of Arts, Simon Fraser University.
(audio: Schindler helped discover that phosphorus from detergents and water treatment plants was killing the Great Lakes; he proved acid rain was coming from coal plant pollution; he's recently done a study of Tar Sands pollution. Schindler has an Order of Canada, is a member of the Royal Society, and has many, many honors.)
That's the wild-eyed radical the Prime Minister fears. A life-long scientist who helped clean up the Great Lakes from phosphorus, who proved the source of acid-rain, a world-recognized and heavily awarded expert, David Schindler.
David is no fly-in academic from New York. He lives in Northern Alberta. He's fished in the many streams threatened by the proposed Enbridge northern pipeline. He's measures the water and the air, finding pollution governments denied.
In the program I summarize some of the surprising revelations in this speech, bolstered by selected audio. For example, did you know the tiny amounts of supposedly reclaimed lands can never be returned to their previous state, because the mine tailings are too salty?
I also didn't realize the biggest source of pollution is actually air-borne. We'll learn all that and more in this work-shop from Canada's top Tar Sands expert, a quiet but devastating critic of the world's dirtiest source of oil.
* Tar Sands chemicals flood local rivers, probably explaining higher levels of cancer in aboriginal Canadians downstream. The government won't investigate the many deaths there.
* The former Alberta caribou herds will never return.
* The forests are being stripped in an area projected to be larger than the state of Florida.
* Countless tons of methane are burned and released just to get oil out of the sands. More global warming gases.
* The corrosive raw oil is carried in a network of pipelines, tankers, trucks, and famous spills. It's an industrial spider web reaching down into the United States, indeed all over North America.
* Wherever you live in the world, the Tar Sands are wrecking your atmosphere, as the single largest industrial source of greenhouse gases on the planet.
* The damage can be seen from space, and will last for thousands of years.
Welcome to your secure energy source, your damned "ethical" oil.
David begins with the tailing ponds, some of which are just meters away from the Athabasca River. According to Tar Sands Watch, every square meter of oil-bearing bitumen mined creates six square meters of tailing. These are tossed into toxic lakes now covering more than 55 square kilometers, over 13,000 acres and growing rapidly. The tailing dyke of just one company, Syncrude, is the second largest dam in the world. Only the Chinese Three Gorges Dam is larger.
Here is David Schindler...
[SH1_TailingsAthabasca etc. 1:38]
David then makes several key points.
First, development in both the Tar Sands operations, and in the surrounding town and infrastructure has far outstripped any planning process or regulation. It's a wild-west anything-goes oil rush. As that building boom grew, the size of planning and regulatory bodies needed to keep pace. Instead successive governments have cut funding, to the point that hardly anything is monitored, regulated, or planned.
Second: while the many foreign corporations make obscene multi-billions in profits, the Canadian public gets less and less of the revenues. Governments, with political parties heavily funded by oil companies, kept reducing the percentage going to the Canadian public. Later, we'll find the whole cleanup bill is mounting, as reclamation is stalled for decades. Young Canadians will pay those astronomic bills.
From the recording March 28th, in Vancouver, here is what David Schindler says about "ethical oil".
OK, now we are going for a long walk through David Schindler's presentation. He talks about cancer in the Native people; how the industry-sponsored river testing found NOTHING, no contaminants from super-polluting smoke stacks. His own team of scientists found a wide range of heavy metals and toxic polycarbonates the industry and government somehow failed to detect.
David Schindler all along gives you the big picture references that nobody else is talking about. For example, there are two giant chemical complexes called "the upgraders" which process the raw bitumen. These are sending out pollution for 50 miles around. It accumulates on the snow, and on the frozen rivers, until the fast Spring melt supercharges all the waters with toxic chemicals. It's the quiet science of the horrific.
[SH4_ScienceTesting 17 min]
That was Dr. David Schindler, an internationally renowned scientist working in Canada, talking about his team research into pollution from the Tar Sands. This was recorded by Alex Smith at the Simon Fraser University Wosk Centre in downtown Vancouver on March 28, 2012.
LISTEN TO/DOWNLOAD THIS RADIO ECOSHOCK SEGMENT ON DAVID SCHINDLER (31 minutes) in CD Quality or Lo-Fi
I hope you got one of the stories Schindler explained. As I understand it, Dr. Schindler and other scientists could not accept the industry-funded government approved study saying that NONE of the dirty pollutants from the tar sands operations could be measured in the Athabasca River or its tributaries. They found the alleged testing set up measuring stations either upstream of the operations, or far down river near the river mouth at Lake Athabasca, where dilution would be greatest. The testing method had a baseline, or used techniques, which eliminated low levels of contaminants.
Three scientists, David Schindler, Jeff Short of NOAA, and Peter Hodson, a toxicologist at Queens University took their own samples. These included sites near the Tar Sands operations.
This independent team used better testing methods. They found low levels of many, many toxic substances, especially near the so-called upgrader plants, where air pollution is strong and obvious. This is a scandal! The First Nations people living downstream from the tar sands complained for years their families were dying of cancer. Industry and the government told the victims there was no pollution in their water.
After the not-so-mysterious cancer deaths of the First Nations people, and after two decades of warnings from scientists, here are the results of the health impacts study done by the Canadian government: nothing!
They don't investigate. They don't care. There are billions of dollars of profits to be made every year. That is what matters.
You aren't going to hear the dirty truth about the tar sands from any authority, and certainly not from the millions spent on propaganda by the multinational oil companies digging out the tar.
We are out of time for this week, but not out of ammunition. In an upcoming Radio Ecoshock show, you'll hear more from famous scientist David Schindler. He'll tell us why the heavily advertised "restoration" of the scoured landscape is fake. Remaking nature is not possible, and it's not going to happen.
The native people like Mike Mercredi know. They live there, eating the polluted fish, breathing the polluted air.
[Mike Mercredi clip 2]
Keep your ears out for more on the Canadian Tar Sands, the world's single largest source of pollution, on Radio Ecoshock.
OUR GLOBAL WARMING COMEDY RANT - FROM LEE CAMP
We also have a short rant by New York Comedian Lee Camp. Here is a comedian who knows that global warming is not all that funny, but it's real. We run a short 2 minute clip from Lee's podcast "A Moment of Clarity" available on You tube.
I'm Alex Smith. Thank you for getting real about your world.
Tuesday, April 10, 2012
The Worst Problems In The World
Posted by Alex Smith at 12:59 PM
Labels: accident, energy, environment, Fukushima, Japan, nuclear power, pollution, tar sands
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