Wednesday, June 29, 2011

U.S. Nuclear Scares, Fukushima Update, and De-Growth

Three nuclear facilities in the United States hovered on the brink of catastrophe in the last month of June 2011 - due to climate change.

Nuclear reactors and labs depend upon a relatively stable climate. A single accident could permanently withdraw a large area of the United States from safe human use.

Nuclear technology, instead of being a solution to climate change, is becoming a victim of it.

The nuclear power plant at Fort Calhoun Nebraska was within feet of a 100 percent chance of meltdown, according to the Nuclear Regulatory Commission. The Cooper Nuclear Station, also on the Missouri River in Nebraska, was also surrounded by flood waters.

In the very same week, a wall of fire raged toward the Los Alamos National Weapons Lab - the nuclear weapons testing facility hosting many thousands of barrels of plutonium waste, old dumps, and the most dangerous nuclear materials on the planet.

A chorus of authorities said over and over, repeated like a mantra in every news report, that everything was completely safe. Just like the government did in Japan before and even after four nuclear reactors blew up and three melted down. It's always declared safe, until it isn't.

I'm Alex Smith. This is Radio Ecoshock.

Later in this program you will hear something completely different from every political promise and every business plan. Scientists, peak oil specialists, environmentalists, and a new breed of financial realists all say the same thing: the age of economic growth is over.

To cope with declining resources, and an eco-system tilting toward a death-spiral, we don't need more growth. We need to shrink our economies. They call it "de-growth."

This new movement argues our financial system, and the whole scheme of human population and every more consumption is an unsustainable Ponzi scheme. We can wait for the grand collapse, or we can plan ways to shrink the human imprint on the planet.

Only on Radio Ecoshock, you will hear two panelists from a recent De-Growth conference in Vancouver, Canada. Our speakers are Conrad Schmidt from the Work-Less-Party, and Dr. Bill Rees, the co-inventor of the ecological footprint concept. What your mainstream media won't tell you.


But first, we go to the nuclear threats hanging over America. Why there will be more events, perhaps a melt-down and spread of radiation, due to climate change.

You'll also hear who owns America's second largest nuclear company, the corporation behind the disputed Vermont Yankee reactor, the Indian Point plant hanging over New York City, and operator of the now flooded Fort Calhoun reactor in Nebraska.

No, it's not Mr. Burns.

Then we'll go to Los Alamos, the belly of the nuclear weapons beast. Despite what you think, it wouldn't be a good thing if that burned down. Unless you want a side-order of plutonium with your lunch.


Fort Calhoun hasn't been a military fort since 1827. Now it's a village of 856 people, on the very Eastern side of Nebraska, more or less in the Center of North America.

The Fort Calhoun nuclear generating station is located nearby, right on the Missouri River, which snakes through the U.S. Midwest for 2300 miles, or 3700 km until it dumps into the Mississippi River, just North of the major city of St. Louis. There is a lot downstream from this reactor site, right down to New Orleans and the Gulf of Mexico, should the deadly radioactivity get washed away in a flood.

The reactor is one of the smallest in America, just under 500 megawatts. It is the old GE Mark I design, a clone of the reactors that blew up in Japan after only a few hours without electrical power.

In late June 2011, record snow-falls in the Rocky Mountains combined with extreme rainfall events to raise the Missouri River to dangerous levels. Both the deep snowfall, and the extreme rain can be attributed to climate change. Burning fossil fuels has warmed the world enough to change the amount of water in the atmosphere, raising it by 4% since 1970, according to the IPCC, and confirmed by several top American scientists, including Dr. Kevin Trenberth.

This year, the run-off was so strong the U.S. Army Corp of Engineers had to open every available floodgate on six flood control dams upstream of the Calhoun Nuclear plant. The Engineeers were aware of the danger, but had no choice. Two of the dams are built out of earth only. If just one dam breaks, the whole lot could go. If just one dam breaks, the Calhoun Nuclear plant would almost undoubtedly flood, and could have parts of the plant washed away, in an inland tsunami.

The Chair of the NRC, Gregory Jaczko did not mention this risk when he visited Fort Calhoun on JUne 27th. The operators, a big company called Entergy, don't talk about it, declaring there is no risk of any radiation release or melt-down. The final owner of the plant is the State of Nebraska, through the Omaha Public Power District, the OPPD.

The flooding of the nuclear plant, the the extreme stress on upstream dams is expected to continue until early August. This is an on-going risk, even if the peak water appear to have passed.

At the time of broadcast, a water-filled berm called an Aquadam, was punctured by a plant worker and collapsed. The Aquadam was promoted as the main line of defense for the reactor buildings, until it failed. The officials dismissed it as unnecessary.
The fall-back was apparently just sand-bags at the doors. We might expect the National Guard would have flown in heavy sand bags in a hurry. That didn't happen. In fact, the whole response has been much smaller than the risk warrants.

Water leaked into the main electrical transformers. Stand-by generators had to be fired up to cool the fuel, even though the plant had been shut down for maintenance. The spent fuel pool, which is loaded, also has to be cooled, as we learned from the radiation pouring out of the spent fuel pool at Fukushima Dai-Ichi reactor four. That one was also closed down for refueling when the Tsunami hit.

Power was restored. All the power lines are running through what looks like a slow moving lake. It is the Missouri River, eating away at everything.

When water started to pour into the turbine building, again officials said that was nothing unexpected.

Funny, nobody predicted that.

We know from Fukushima that nuclear power plants are riddled with basements, trenches, and pipes carrying wires. Is the wiring in the turbine building designed to be underwater? Can they keep the electrical system, and the cooling pumps going? Has water started leaking through all the connections into the main reactor building? None of that information is coming out. It's all safe, that is what we are told.

And who could have predicted any of this?

Was it a secret that the mountains were buried under record snow? Does the Nuclear Regulatory Commision know climate change means more extreme rainfall events?

At least the NRC did slightly improve the flood chances at the Fort Calhoun plant last year, in one of their rare attempts to get companies to follow safety. Otherwise, NRC documents show, there was a 100 percent chance of reactor core damage if the water reached 1010 feet above sea level. And that still could happen, if a dam bursts.

According to Dave Lochbaum, one of the few nuclear engineers we can trust, the NRC inspected the Fort Calhoun plant, and gave it a yellow safety flag for flood protection problems. Yellow is the second most serious, with only two given by the NRC in 2010 for the whole country.

The operators, Entergy - and we'll hear more about them soon - contested the NRC findings, and tried to avoid upgrading their flood protection. The NRC won that small battle, which may have so far saved the plant.

Was the NRC asking for a 50 foot wall to surround the facility, to protect it permanently? No, Entergy was protesting building a few small berms, getting their staff to practice what to do in a flood, and other minor adjustments. It wasn't nearly enough. The electric transformers and the turbine building have aleady experienced leaks. Perhaps more, that we haven't been told about.

None of this is a surprise. Floods in 1993 endangered the Fort Calhoun plant. The State government, the federal regulators, and the operators had 18 years to plan out their response for the next big one. And opted for quaterly profits instead.
The operator, a company called Entergy, is famous for regular quarterly profits.

Entergy is the second largest nuclear operator and owner in the United States, behind Exelon. They operate the old Vermont Yankee reactor in New England. Entergy promised the State they would not continue past 2012 without permission of a state board, but applied for and got another 20 year license fron the NRC, even after the Vermont Senate voted against continuing the plant operation. Entergy is suing the State, to keep the old reactor going, despite huge public opposition in Vermont.

New York City residents have lots to fear from Entergy's operations of a reactor at Indian Point, just 35 miles north of the mega-city. Believe it or not, the plant is too near a seismic zone. It has a string of safety problems and leaks.

Now we find Entergy at Fort Calhoun, with mickey-mouse safety preparations for the big flood, which was predictable months ago. The New York Times reports a line of staff hand-passing orange fuel cans on catwalks over the flood waters, trying to keep dozens of small pump engines going, trying to keep up with leaks all over the facility. It's frantic, and it's not what we were told about safety in the nuclear industry.

Who is the operator, Entergy? Their Board of Directors is a snap-shot of the American nuclear industry today. Most outstanding to me is the number of former high level government officials, and elected politicians, who end up as highly paid directors in a nuclear company.

Like Ms Alexis M. Herman, an Entergy Director since 2003. She's also a Director of Coca-Cola, Cummins, the engine people, and MGM Mirage, the entertainment and gambling giant. MS. Herman was the U.S. Secretary of Labor from 1997 to 2001. She was also a White House Assistant to the U.S. President. She got $136,000 as an Entergy Director in 2010.

Or how about this for political power for your Board. Entergy is a southern-based company. They have banking connections in Ohio, but really they are from the South. In January 2011 they scored another big politician: Blanche Lambert Lincoln. She was Congresswoman for Arkansas, and then a U.S. Senator for the State of Arkansas right up to 2011, when she went on the Entergy Board.

Blanche Lincoln was in a position to oversee some parts of the nuclear industry, in her position as a Member of the U.S. Senate Committee on Finance, Committee on Energy and Natural Resources. Now she'll get her 120 something thousand dollars or more from the big nuclear company, as a Director. Straight from the Senate Floor to the industry Board Room.

W.J. "Billy" Tauzin is on the Board with her. Billy was a United States Representative for the State of Louisiana until 2005. He served as Chairman of the U.S. House Committee on Energy and Commerce. You can't get more plugged in that that.

That's the revolving door of nuclear politics. Candidates get campaign money while the serve, and then a directorship, often just a few meetings a year, when they leave.


Entergy has a mixed record on the environment. The current Chairman of the Board of Directors of Entergy is J. Wayne Leonard. He helped arrange a joint-venture with the infamous climate deniers, the Koch Brothers. Entergy-Koch LP, a gas and commodities trading company, was sold to Merrill Lynch in 2004.

Leonard is also connected to the oil industry. He is a Director of Tidewater Inc. That company prides itself on providing services to the offshore oil industry, including, quote: we’re serving customers who are operating in more remote, deeper and increasingly hostile environments in order to meet the world’s energy demands."

End quote. They serve the most risky plays for oil and gas.

On the other hand, J. Wayne Leonard took the Entergy Board of Directors into endorsing Cap and Trade as a way to control climate change emissions. The nuclear industry saw climate change as a way to become the "good guys", since their reactors, once built, hardly emitted carbon. There might even be a future for new reactors, which would be good for the construction company Directors on Entergy's Board.
The rare big industry support for cap and trade, and even admission that global warming was happening, more or less collapsed with the failure of climate legislation in the United States.

At least they tried.

But for all the power of this Entergy Board, none of them are the owners of the company. In fact, company insiders own less than 1 percent of the stock. Who is the Mr. Burns behind it all?

It could be you, via the big Wall Street Institutional holders who have up hold billions of dollars worth of share. Here is a short list of the biggest Entergy owners. The two biggest are Franklin Resources and Price T. Rowe Associates, with three quarters of a billion dollars worth each. State Street Corp and Evercore Trust Company come in at half a billion.

Then some names you know, like Barclays, Blackrock, Goldman Sachs, Lazard, Bank of New York Mellon, and many more.

These are the institutions who fund risky nuclear power. They could lose big if even one reactor is permantly shut down, or blows up like Fukushima. They make big money every quater, partly by fighting off costs imposed by the Nuclear Regulatory Commission, or by re-licensing agains the will of States and local populations.

Your pension fund may have bought into nuclear power. Find out. Get out. Because nuclear power is dying after Fukushima, and now these near misses in the United States. We hope they are near misses. That drama is not over yet.


The Los Alamos National Laboratory is the site of many black nuclear doings. The bombs dropped on Japan were made there. A lot of early nuclear testing at Los Alamos put Strontium 90 into the bones of a generation in the 50's and 60's.

There are old dumps on the site, some of them badly marked. I doubt anyone really know where all the nuclear materials are.

We do know, through the Christian Science Monitor, and the Concerned Citizens for Nuclear Safety: there are between 20 and 30 thousand barrels of nuclear waste sitting in flamable tents, above ground at the Los Alamos site. A raging forest fire was 3.5 miles, that is 5.6 Kilometers, away.

The Lab was forced to close, and turn off the gas, with the fire clearly visible. Fifteen thousand people work there, mostly on nuclear weapons technology. There are around 2,000 buildings in the complex, making it the equivalent of the old Soviet "secret cities".

A spot fire appeared on lab property but was put out. That was at Tech Area 49, where underground tests with radioactive materials were undertaken in the early 1960s.

All around, 44,000 acres, 176 square kilometers of forest and brush burned violently.
Despite that, all we get from government officials at the lab is that everything is completely safe from fire. They can't say anything more, because the whole site is a national security secret. Except from the Chinese spies who penetrated everything there a few years ago.

The nuclear materials at Los Alamos lab have the potential to poison the entire U.S. South West, and perhaps the Northern Hemisphere.

Again, the risk of fire was entirely predictable. There was a serious fire in 2000. The Cerro Grande fire burned another 48,000 acres, destroying some Los Alamos Lab buildings.

According to the Christian Science Monitor, increased radiation levels were measured after that fire, including plutonium, cesium, and strontium. A Lab employee claimed the source was natural radon from the forest, augmented by fall-out still present from the nuclear testing years. Yes, plutonium will last for hundreds of thousands of years. But can we trust this source? Or was radiation released by the fire in 2000, when Lab buildings went up in smoke?

It's all a big secret. We don't know then, and we won't be told now, even though the public could be exposed to increased numbers of cancers down the road.


Scientists say the amount of water in the atmosphere has risen measurably. That extra water has to come from somewhere. Perversely, it is drawn from those regions already hot and dry. Wet place become saturated, dry regions are sucked drier. That's how warming works.

Since 2000, a long-lasting drought, brought on by climate change, according to dozens of scientists, including those in Arizona - the drought weakend most tree-life in the American West. It opened the forests to boring beetles, and set the stage for a decade or more of devastating wild fires.

Just like the wild-fires in the Russian heat wave in 2010.
A fire there wiped out power lines to a secret nuclear facility. Russian troops were called in to fight the flames before they could sweep over whatever secret nuclear horrors were stored there. A radioactive fire plume was narrowly averted.

All around the world, climate disruption has made the use and storage of nuclear materials impossibly dangerous. It's a spin-off of climate change that was predicable, and still we didn't see it, until these three threats in the United States. Record flooding in Nebraska, with two reactors surrounded by running river waters, and drought-driven fire nipping at the edges of vast quantities of the most deadly nuclear elements, in a weapons lab.

Toss in rising seas for the reactors at ocean side, and the picture of an industry past it's due date becomes complete. The nuclear industry cannot survive the great warming already in process.

I'm Alex Smith. Find all our reports at the web site,


Many of you have asked for an update on the Fukushima nuclear disaster in Japan. After all, three out of control reactors continue to melt-down.

It is difficult to communicate the big picture of the Japanese nuclear accident, or the strange collusion of the American government. They play down the severity of the exposions and radiation.

Here is a discussion, Plato-style.

Kate: This is Kate Smith.

ALEX: ...and I'm Alex Smith for Radio Ecoshock.

Kate: We're here to bring you critical information on the triple melt-down of nuclear reactors in Fukushima, Japan

ALEX: and questions about the failure of the American government to protect its own citizens from radiation.

Why did the Nuclear Regulatory Commission fail to warn Americans about the surge of radiation in early March of 2011?

Kate: Why did the government announce it was withdrawing radiation monitors from the West Coast?

ALEX: Why did Secretary of State Hillary Clinton announce the U.S. would support sales from Japan, despite popular concerns about radiation?

Is it possible America is downplaying the world's most serious nuclear accident, to avoid its own economic collapse? Details to come.

Kate: Alex, where do we start?

ALEX: Everyone needs to recognize the Japanese authorities and plant owner Tepco are not trying to stop radiation into the sky and the sea. They are not engaged in "cleaning up" the reactors. Their official announcements make clear their first priority is to cope with tons of highly radioactive water already poured over melting reactor fuel. The contaminated water threatens to flood the site, and leak even more radiation into the groundwater and the ocean.

The operator has brought in two devices designed to remove enough radioactivity to recycle water back into the ruins of the reactor, to cool the lava-like melted cores. The machines quickly become clogged with such large amounts of radioactive particles, they had to be shut down after very short runs.

The filter devices cannot keep up with cooling needs, much less deal with 110,00 tonnes of radioactive water hovering near overflow levels in several locations around the site. Officials admit highly radioactive water reached the water table. It is still flowing into the sea around Fukushima.

Samples taken at the end of June from the ocean bottom three kilometers from the reactor site show Strontium 90, a radioactive metal known to lodge in bones, and to cause leukemia. Plutonium has also been found on the sea floor.

The operator Tepco is overwhelmed with radioactive water. It is falling behind every announced timetable to cope with it.

Kate: On June 23rd, Bloomberg news reported Tepco is running out of nuclear workers. 3500 workers have been exposed to radiation at Fukushima Dai-ichi. Staff on site has dropped from a high of about 2,000, to just over 1,000 people.

Banri Kaieda, the Japanese Minister of Economy, Trade and Industry verbally approved a new plan to use senior citizens as volunteers to help the emergency work at Fukushima. Workers as old as 72 say they have formed a volunteer brigade to go to the reactors, to help fix guages and clean up radioactive debris. In the summer heat, with heavy breathing masks and protective clothing, nobody is certain these seniors can cope with the work.

Radiation in some places at Fukushima Dai-ichi is deadly with just half an hour exposure. But the volunteers deny this is a "kamakaize" mission.

ALEX: Yes, and this is exactly what the famous Japanese-American physicist Michio Kaku has been saying for months in the mainstream media, and on Democracy Now. Kaku predicted Tepco would run out of workers. In early April, he called for the deployment of Japanese troops to Fukushima-Daichi.

The model is what the Soviet Union did when the Chernobyl nuclear plant blew up in April of 1986. Hundreds of thousands of soldiers were sent in, some for as little as 15 minutes each, to shovel, install pipes, pour a little concrete. Then each man or woman was withdrawn, given a medal, and sent back to barracks, so the next person could step up. This was the only way to work in such a highly radioactive environment, in the huge task of burying the reactor in concrete.

Kate: But the core of the Chernobyl reactor did not manage to reach the ground water. Plus the new Chernobyl reactor did not generate as many tons of stored waste as Fukushima. Would burying the reactor work?

ALEX: It seems doubtful, and yet may be the only solution, if there is any solution. We are talking about four reactors here at least, maybe six. It could take a decade or more to build such a giant silo, the largest construction project in history. It means hundreds of thousands of workers exposed.

Kate: What is the financial impact of the Fukushima melt-down.

ALEX: The total cost of this accident is entirely unknown. Nuclear industry executive Arnie Gundersen suggests the direct liability to the Japanese government might reach a quarter of a trillion dollars.

That doesn't count the damage to Japanese trade, from countries who suspect radioactive products. It doesn't count down-time to big companies, like electronics and car makers who must run part-time shifts of production, due to lack of power.
The loss of part of Japan to radiation, lasting hundreds of years or more, is incalculable.

Even the direct costs could bankrupt the Japanese government.

Kate: The Japanese are already the most indebted country in the world, in relation to their Gross Domestic Product. The government owes at least 200 percent of the GDP. They have run giant deficits for years, making countries like Greece look prudent and conservative by comparison.

How can they afford new billions for compensation, buying liquified gas from abroad, the loss of the tax base, while supporting citizens made homeless by the earthquake and tsunami?

ALEX: The government cannot afford it - unless they withdraw money from their huge bank account in the United States. Japan is the world's second largest holder of U.S. debt, mostly U.S. Treasuries. Japan has over seven hundred billion dollars banked in America. But if they withdraw that, selling their holdings, the collapse in value of U.S. treasuries could plunge America into bankruptcy.

Kate: America is already close to bankruptcy. The debt limit was reached by June. Congress fought over whether to allow more borrowing, or slash government services, possibly including pensions and support for the poorest citizens.

In the last big debt sale, the U.S. government-supported agency, the Federal Reserve, bought most of the debt offered. It was called "quantitative easing". How is that affected by the nuclear accident in Japan?

ALEX: To explain the connection, we have to look at a buried story. Nobody wants to talk about Tokyo.

Tokyo is the capital of Japan, and likely the world's largest city, with somewhere around 35 million people. It is only 140 miles, or 225 km south of the Fukushima accident site.

In March, after the explosions at all four Fukushim Dai-ichi reactors, clouds of radioactivity fell on Tokyo. The drinking water was declared unsafe. There was a run on bottled water. The government delivered water to pregnant women and day-care centers.

Then the government and the tightly controlled-Japanese press went silent about the radiation of Tokyo.

Until late April. Then the story came out that most Tokyo sewage plants were overwhelmed with radioactivity. These sewage treatment centers were burning the sludge, further distributing more radioactive particles, which are not destroyed by incineration. Hot ash went out over parts of Tokyo again.

Even though the authorities knew the remaining slag after incinceration was highly radioactive, they permitted it to be sold to cement companies. Again, radioactivity was spread, this time through construction with contaminated cement.
They are just redistributing radioactive particles, which remain dangerous in the environment for a very long time.

The government set up a few radioactive testing sensors in Tokyo. These were 18 meters high, almost 60 feet above the ground. The authorities said radiation levels were very low.

Citizens, and people from the University began to test radiation at ground level. They found many radioactive hot spots all around Tokyo. They were using cheap hand-held geiger counters. The truth got out over the Internet, by You tube videos showing high readings.

That forced the government to admit background radiation in Tokyo was three times the previous level. It won't go down, these elements last for decades, even centuries.
More radioactivity continues to arrive from the Fukushima site itself, especially now that the winds have shifted, blowing South from the plant toward the capital.
The Russian media quoted a government inside source saying the Japanese had a plan to move the government from Tokyo to somewhere less radioactive, like Osaka. The government denied it.

Major financial newspapers in the United States said national embassies, and even the headquarters of some multinational companies, were moving out of Tokyo, some to Osaka.

Kate: This is a dialog on the Japanese nuclear accident and the American response. I'm Kate Smith, with Radio Ecoshock host Alex Smith.

Kate: Alex, how does radioactivity in the capital Tokyo tie in with finance?

ALEX: We need to understand the current financial position of Japan, to understand their fear of a big fall. Not only is the Japanese government holding world-record debt, the big banks in the country actually became insolvent in the early 1990's when the property bubble collapsed. It was the same process now going on in America.
The banks gave out giant real estate loans, with a lot of collateral based on the alleged value of Tokyo property.

When Tokyo real estate dropped sharply in the early 1990's, banks pretended to be solvent, by keeping the previous high values on their books. The biggest American banks are doing the same thing now.

So the Japanese banks managed to keep going for two decades, known as "zombie banks" -because they were actually dead in financial reality.

They could continue this pretense by saying "Well, the value of Tokyo real estate might go up again, and then our books would be more balanced."

Now, with this radiation, everybody knows Tokyo real estate is never coming back to it's record high levels. It may even decline, as some people move out due to nuclear concerns. This Fukushima radiation could reveal the true bankrupt state of both the banks and the Japanese government.

Kate: Does this affect Americans?

ALEX: Yes, if the Japanese decided to withdraw their billions, America could also go bankrupt.

The Obama government realized the risk soon after the accident. On April 17th Hillary Clinton went to Japan, making public appearances to show American support for the Japanese. Meetings of officials of both countries went on behind the scenes.
Secretary of State Clinton returned to Japan at the end of April. On April 29th, Foreign Minister Takeaki Matsumoto said the U.S. agreed to help Japan dispel "rumors" about radioactivity and fight import bans based on safety. The announcement surprised Americans concerned about possibly radioactive food and other products from Japan.

Kate: Japan admitted the radiation going into the ocean from Fukushima was triple the amounts announced earlier. The government confirmed the ocean was poisoned with radioactivity along the coast for 300 kilometers. That is 186 miles.
With in their ship the Rainbow Warrior, Greenpeace found radioactivity in seaweed 12 miles out to sea.

It seems incredible the U.S. government would agree to not test sea food products from Japan.

ALEX: The Obama administration did some very strange things, some of them questionable for the safety of it's citizens. The EPA loudly and publicly announced they were withdrawing radiation testing stations from the American West Coast. Even though three reactors continue to melt down across the Pacific, with unknown results. More explosions and releases are possible.

In mid-April, FDA spokeswoman Siobhan DeLancey announced the agency would NOT test North Pacific-caught sea food for safety. There is no sampling or monitoring for radioactivity from Fukushima bioaccumulating in fish.

According to Kyodo June 26th, the Japanese are now proposing to ship unsold sea food to developing nations.

Despite the clouds of radioactivity that continue to blow over much of Japan, at times going as far as Korea, China and the Russian coast, the U.S. military has not announced any base closings there. In mid-March, the military did withdraw thousands of dependents in a mass air operation. But the soldiers and airforce are still there. Why is America risking the health of 47,000 troops in Japan?

Soon after the accident, the U.S. Nuclear Regulatory Commission was warned the only possible outcome after cooling stopped was three melt-downs. Why didn't the government warn the American public about the radiation that fell over the whole country a week later?

Kate, my question is: to prevent a run on U.S. Treasuries, to stop the Japanese from endangering the economy by withdrawing billions, did the Obama administration make big concessions to the Japanese?

Kate: Alex, can you prove these negotiations took place?

ALEX: No. At this point it is just a theory that explains the behavoior of the U.S. government in this affair. It is based on facts well-known in the financial world, about insolvent banks and governments. I think agreements made by the American administration will come out eventually.

That is just part of a complicated history between the two countries, of war, occupation, and a lot of trade. Plus, America wants to hide its own nuclear risks.
We can't discount the current economic crisis as a reason why the American government is so anxious to support Japan, even while risking the safety of it's own citizens.

Kate: You are tuned to a special program on the Japanese nuclear accident and the American response. I'm Kate Smith, with Alex Smith from Radio Ecoshock.

I think we need to hear more about the local situation in Japan. There are still some 290,000 people in Fukushima City, 37 miles,or 60 kilometers away from the plant. Fukushima City was highly irradiated by explosions at the reactors. Like Tokyo, their sewage systems and waterways are radioactive.

Even school yards and public parks have hot zones. The municipal government ordered a limit of one hour only in the parks. On June 6th they lifted those restrictions. On June 7th Greenpeace technicians found a pile of leaves in a park measuring 4.2 microsieverts per hour. Even the leaves qualified as radioactive waste that needed special handling and disposal for 30 years. The leaves cannot be burned. That would just spread the radiation.

Radiation is everywhere. Fukushima City, and many other towns and cities in that region, are now the world's biggest experiment in living within a radioactive zone. There is no where to evacuate all the people.

ALEX: That's true. The Japanese government tried to raise the permissible levels for radiation of children to 20 millisieverts - the same level previously set for workers inside a nuclear plant. Parents made a rare protest, the government pulled back to 1 millisievert.

Now they are issuing bracelets to 34,000 school children to measure radioactivity. These dosimeters don't warn children if they approach a hot spot, they just collect the data, to be assessed later by the secretive Japanese government. It is likely no child or family will ever be told how much radiation they have been exposed to, or how many hot particles they have ingested. As you said Kate, it's a big experiment - a whole population living in a nuclear disaster zone in Japan.

Kate: I'm Kate Smith.

ALEX: and I'm Alex Smith, reporting for Radio Ecoshock, at
Thank you for listening.

Wednesday, June 22, 2011


The oceans are dying, says a team of top scientists. The causes are all human: overfishing wiping out key species, warmer waters from a warming world, dying coral which supported millions of species, pollution like fertilizers causing deadly algae blooms and dead zones, - a whole host of factors.

But key among them: our huge carbon emissions are being sucked up the sea, turning them more acidic. As Dr. Alex Rogers explains in an audio clip, there is more than just the difficulty when plankton and shell fish and all species can't find the calcium they need to make shells and bones (due to acidification changing the chemistry). There are other impacts being discovered, including a breakdown of senses used by marine life to survive.

As the oceans become more loaded with carbon dioxide, they further add to warming, becoming a positive feedback loop. The announcement by the 27 scientists for IPSO (described below) is the most depressing and alarming science news I've seen this year.

Many of the scientists are talking about a mass extinction in the ocean, and horrible impacts for land species. They have the data to back that up. We are late in the game, and must revolutionize our energy systems, or watch the oceans die, just like in the science fiction movie "Soylent Green".

We start with a quick clip from Professor Chris Reid, Marine Institute, the University of Plymouth in Britain. He's afraid to tell his grandchildren what he knows.

He's talking about a report that must be the greatest headline of our times. A new report from the International Programme on the State of the Ocean, or IPSO, features 27 top experts on the oceans. They warn the oceans are in a state of dying from multiple causes, all of them human.

I'm sorry to interrupt the latest murder story on TV, the Hollywood gossip, or even the fire storms, floods, drought or what have you, with news from serious science. Climate change is not coming. It is here.

Carbon is not only flooding the atmosphere but the deep sea. The oceans, stripped of the big species we eat, poisoned by our waste into expanding dead zone, with corals richness turning into white deserts - but changing chemically, becoming more acid.

It is news of mass extinction, and thank you for having the courage to listen. To face the awful truth.


Later in this Radio Ecoshock show, (and further down in this long blog entry) you will learn how governments sold you out on reactor safety. The Japanese people learned to their lasting sorrow, government turned nuclear safety over to the industry. With devastating results at Fukushima, and well beyond.

You will hear three sources confirm the same regulatory system in the United States was gutted in 1999. There has been virtually no enforcement ever since, with dangerous reactor problems left unfixed. On our present course, an American Fukushima is just a matter of time.

Oh, and by the way, the law prohibits you or your local government even bringing up anything about safety of old dilapidated reactors. You have no say. Our experts from within the nuclear industry, and a former member of the Nuclear Regulatory Commision, will explain how Democracy does not apply.


But surely the science of extinction must come first. Here is a short clip from Dr. Alex Rogers, Scientific Director of IPSO and Professor of Conservation Biology at the Department of Zoology, University of Oxford, talking about the new report.

[Rogers clip]

Extinction? You want to talk extinction? Dr. Peter Ward from the University of Washington makes a career studying the five previous mass deaths on planet Earth. He's advised on extinction specials on Animal Planet, and a recent climate special on National Geographic TV. His book "Under A Green Sky" set the scientific world on edge, as he proposed the way a change in ocean life could extinguish almost everything that breathes on land. Judging by the geological record, Life, Ward said in a later book, "The Medea Hypothesis" - tends toward mass suicide. Peter returns for his third visit to Radio Ecoshock. See also here.

You would think Ward would be the most depressing conversationalist in the world. Quite the opposite. I always enjoy talking with him, and we're going to do that right now.

[Audio only]

We finish the first half of the show with new climate music! From Amherst Massachusetts, this Ethan Miller song is sung by Ben Grosscup and Dan Inglis. It's called "Come Winter", first broadcast on Radio Ecoshock. Find that song, and other by the duo, at


The Nuclear Regulatory Commission has failed to enforce regulations on American nuclear plants since 1999. I could hardly believe my ears when I heard this, and other clear warnings about big risks at U.S. reactors - from a panel of experts at the Boston Public Library, June 19th, 2011.

I'm Alex Smith. In this Radio Ecoshock special you will hear, from multiple sources, lax regulation has left well-known dangerous problems unfixed in U.S. reactors for decades. An American Fukushima nuclear disaster is just waiting to happen. Three sources back that up.

The kicker: in this upside down system, Democracy need not apply. You are not allowed to ask about safety. Neither are the State governments, or Governors. No matter how dangerous, we can argue about the esthetics or economics of nuclear plants, but nobody can present safety issues. We'll talk to Professor Peter Bradford from the Vermont Law School to find out how that works. Bradford is a former Commission of the NRC, and he knows the system isn't working.

Let's hear this short explanation from David Lochbaum, nuclear engineer with the Union of Concerned Scientists, on why the NRC stopped enforcing regulations on nuclear power plant safety issues over a decade ago. The question from the audience at the Boston Public Library is read out by Sandra Gavutis, Exective Director of the C-10 foundation.


[ Sandra Gavutis, Executive Director of the C-10 Foundation:

"What explains the NRC's current inability to enforce it's own regulations?"

David Lochbaum: "June 4th, 1998. I was sitting at the Commision table, directly across from NRC Chairman Jackson, when I was the usual bit whining about the NRC. He slammed the table and said if I really believed that, I could walk to Capital Hill.

I didn't understand at all why she was mad at me for that reason. It turns out that same, that morning she had received word that the Senate threatened to cut the NRC's budget by 40 percent. Five hundred NRC workers would have been laid off very rapidly.

The Senate at that time was controlled by Senator Domenichi from New Mexico, who was somewhat of an ally for the nuclear industry.

The previous year, 1997, nine U.S. reactors were shut down the entire year to fix safety issues. Chairman Jackson was a regulator. She did enforce the regulations. The plant that didn't meet the regulations did not operate. Pretty simple.

The industry didn't like that so they went to Congress and said 'we need to knock this off.' So Congress threatened to cut the NRC's budget by 40 percent unless they stopped doing their job.

So it was either lose your job, or stop doing your job. They chose the later. They stopped enforcing in 1999. They haven't enforced many regulations since then.

I criticize the NRC. I think if they had a spine they would have resisted Congressional pressure. They gave into it.

But if you look at MMS (U.S. Minerals Management Service), the Securities and Exchange Commission, anybody, any regulatory body that tries to enforce the regulations, Congress tells them to not [do it].

Not Congressman Markey, there are very strong allies, but unfortunately the majority of the Congress is pro-business and anti-safety.

So the NRC uses any excuse it has. Protection of their jobs was the best one of the day."


Don't believe it? We'll get confirmation of lax regulation from a former NRC Commissioner.

Lochbaum's story is so important. The same threats from Congress have allowed big industry to capture supposed regulatory agencies in almost every field, from chemicals to the oil industry. Even the right-wing CATO Institute says the same thing.

Lochbaum mentioned the U.S. Mineral Management Service. That agency was supposed to provide safety inspections on rigs like the BP Deepwater Horizon drilling rig that blew up in the Gulf of Mexico last year.

The sordid tale of bribes, prostitution, and inaction by the MMS regulators is reported by the Washington Post in an August 24th, 2010 article titled "How the Minerals Management Service's partnership with industry led to failure".

The Cato Institute is more blunt. Their article is titled "MMS Captured by Industry". So was the Nuclear Regulatory Commission.



Let's go to our legal expert from Vermont. He'll explain all the crazy legal limitations that keep Americans, State Legislatures, and even Governors from ever bring up safety at all. Is the local reactor leaking? Do parts of it fall right over? Shut up. That's not for you to decide. Anyone concerned with nuclear power safety, and we all should be, should listen to this interview closely and twice.

After the interview, you'll hear about major safety problems in 50 American reactors that should have been fixed decades ago. But it's optional, and plant owners just say "No" to the government. Just like Japan. Politicians protect the industry.

What if the people of your community are afraid of an aging nuclear reactor with a history of problems? After multiple nuclear melt-downs in Fukushima Japan, local citizen action groups are waking up again. In America, they are being joined by State Legislatures and Governors.

Their power to say "no" to risky nuclear power plants may depend on a lawsuit going forward in the state of Vermont. The Vermont Yankee plant is a General Electric Mark I boiling water reactor - the very same design that exploded in Japan. The owners, Entergy are up against the Vermont State Legislature - who want the operation closed.

From New England, we are joined by an expert from the Vermont Law School, Adjunct Professor Peter Bradford, a former member of the U.S. Nuclear Regulatory Commission, the NRC.

In February of 2010 the Vermont Senate Legislature (the Senate actually) voted overwhelmingly against continuing the Vermont Yankee Nuclear Plant after 2012.

The plant owner, Entergy, which bought in relatively recently, agreed it would not seek relicensing if opposed by a certain Vermont board. But before that group could rule, the Senate stepped in saying no decision could be made without their approval.

It appears Entergy is suing the State of Vermont for interfering beyond it's legal rights, by opposing re-licensing. The case is complicated, and may go to the Supreme Court. Entergy hopes for some kind of interim ruling by late Summer, Bradford thinks, so they can plan for continung staff, or plan for a shut-down next year.

But the process is so convoluted as Bradford explains. Because ONLY the NRC can rule on safety of a nuclear plant (and the NRC is captured by industry) - the State of Vermont can only talk about economic issues or other concerns. They are not allowed to raise safety concerns, like the ongoing Tritium leaks from Vermont Yankee, or the incident in 2007 when an entire cooling tower just collapsed, being so rotten.

Bradford gives listeners a lot of incite into the various legal rulings which have walled off safety exclusively the Nuclear commissioners. The President appoints members to the NRC, and those appointments have to be approved by the Senate. Could anti-nuclear groups approach Obama? Wait, Obama is pro-nuclear, and received big nuclear money in his Ohio campaign. He appointed pro-nuclear staff, like Steven Chu.

Bradford has a little optimism that the new Chairperson and mostly new Commissioners may be in a position to change things, after Fukushima, because they were not involved in the previous history of non-enforcement.

However, he says the NRC invoked draconian powers to shut out the public and public interest groups during the 1990's, and these were not unanimous decisions (implying opposition by some Commissioners). Peter Bradford says they went too far, and that needs to be changed.

Just like in Japan, there has also been at least one documented case where an NRC Commissioner was negotiating for a job with a nuclear operator he was supposed to supervise, Bradford says. I'm betting that's just the tip of the iceberg! We'll hear more about the revolving door between the NRC and the nuclear industry.

Bradford himself was an NRC Commissioner in the 1980's.

The whole discussion, of how democracy got lost in nuclear power, and why it is treated so differently from every other industry and agency, is quite enlightening. Any activists or concerned citizens should listen to the audio interview.



The American dozens of plants in nuclear industry have hardly fixed any major known flaws. Because regulation is non-existent.

Now, after Fukushima, it's a big open story. When a part of a whole country becomes radioactive Chernobyl-style, when a population is terrified, when the whole Northern Hemisphere is hit with radioactivity, it's more than news. Ugly nuclear secrets are coming out of the closet.

One big breaking story, crammed with NRC inaction and frightening near-misses comes from Jeff Donn of the Associated Press. His series is devastating.

Donn's expose is our third confirmation that American nuclear regulators "repeatedly" water down the rules, or are, quote, "simply failing to enforce them". You've heard it from the Union of Concerned Scientists, from former Commissioner Bradford, and now from Associated Press. I'd say the secret is out.

This is so so dangerous. And it's exactly what led to the lack of earthquake and Tsunami protection, and lack of working back up plans, at Fukushima, Japan.
Find one of Jeff Donn's AP stories here.

Joe Romm at the blog has a good summary of it too.


The public interest group C-10 Research and Education Foundation is fighting the Seabrook nuclear reactor in New Hampshire.

C-10 set up a panel at the Boston Public Library, June 19th, 2011, with David three experts: nuclear engineer David Lockbaum from the Union of Concerned Scientists, long-time nuclear industry executive Arnie Gundersen of Fairewinds Associates, and Dr. Richard Clapp, Professor of Environmental Health, at the Boston University School of Public Health.

You will hear a couple of short clips from the You-tube Q and A, courtesy of C-10, and more from the main presentations, thanks to recording by Fairewinds Associates and Turning Tide Productions.


In the radio program, we start with long-time nuclear industry executive Arnie Gundersen on the flooding threat to the Fort Calhoun Nuclear Reactor in late June 2011. It has been surrounded by the flood-waters of the Missouri river.

That may be an under-reported nuclear accident. There was a fire at the reactor last week, and the FAA ordered no fly-overs. Apparently cooling to the heavily stocked spent fuel pool was unavailable for several hours. But I have found no reports of radiation escaping, so far...

Still the plant operators declared a Level Four alert, while denying there was any real problem. Photos of the Fort Calhoun reactor show the site entirely flooded by the Missouri River, although operators claim the actual reactor buildings are still protected by sand bags.

Arnie Gunderdsen of Fairewinds Associates says a record snow-fall in the Rocky Mountains has forced six dams upstream of Fort Calhoun to open their floodways. I believe two of those dams are just earthen dams, rather than concrete. Gundersen says if any of those dams give way, Fort Calhoun will turn into a major nuclear accident. That is how close it is.

Fort Calhoun was previously flooded in 1993, and yet neither the operators or the government have built new levies to protect the plant. More inaction by the NRC, endangering the public.

Now to David Lochbaum from the Union of Concerned Scientists, and remember this is just part of an hour-long catalog of problems at American reactors. I'm expecting a video of the event will appear at the C-10 site. I'll write the group to see if we can get permission to post the audio - although I would also need permission from Turning Tide Productions, who kindly sent me a copy. Thanks!

Right now, you can see various video clips from the Q and A session that followed the panel presentations, and it was really worth your time. Check them out.

Find them at

First video 14 minutes.

I've placed a partial transcript and links at the bottom of this post.

These include:

* more explanations of limitations on relicensing hearings. No talking about safety!

* industry experts talk about what it would take for the NRC to finally turn down a re-licensing application - which they have never done, no matter the history of leaks, near-misses and known safety problems. Experts agree only a massive failure in the concrete would be too expensive to fix. Maybe that will stop the Seabrook re-licensing in New England, who knows.

* fights against other old reactors in New England, incuding the Pilgrim and Vermont Yankee plants

* a bit on the earthquake prone reactors on the California coast, which I covered in this Radio Ecoshock show.

Thanks for all our listeners who sent in tips, and to the new college and community radio stations joining us this week.

I'm your bearer of bad tidings, Alex Smith. Good for you, for hanging in there. Now let's do something about it.


First video 14 minutes

In the first question, Dr. Clapp felt New Englanders did not need to take precautions at this time, as the impact of Fukusima fall-out was minimal.

Arnie Gundersen said we will have to watch out for fish that have bioaccumulated radioactive materials, but not for a year or so.

Asked about the re-licensing procedure, David Lochbaum noted no application had ever been turned down, and the process was riddled with limitations and weakness.


Here is a transcript of that audio, which addresses the Pilgrim Nuclear Power Station in Plymouth, Massachusetts:

Host, Sandra Gavutis, Executive Director of the C-10 Foundation:

"What is the timeline and process for Pilgrim [nuclear power plant] relicensing, and what are the major issues being considered?"

David Lochbaum: "Pilgrim Watch [public interest group] and the State have intervened in the relicensing. I'm not sure of the exact schedule for the NRC to litigate that proceeding.

The NRC [inaudible] scope in what you can test in license renewal amounts to slightly more than spell-checking.

You cannot contend that there is a terrorist threat to the plant. Even after 911. You can't carry more than 4 ounces of shampoo on a plane, but you can't assume a terrorist will attack Pilgrim. So that's off the table.

You can't challenge spent fuel storage at Pilgrim. It's not part of the game of license renewal.

Some of the issues that Pilgrim watch has raised include buried piping. If you run a pipe through a building, you have to inspect it for aging. If you run it underneath that building, the NRC says you don't have to inspect if or aging. Not the brightest thing we've ever done.

There is also electrical cables that were not designed to be submerged in water that have been submerged in water. The NRC would like commenters to knock that off. It's currently being contested whether that's a good thing, or a bad thing, or a tolerable thing. It's a bad thing.

There's lots of other major issues."

In fact, Pilgrim Watch has raised five issues, despite the severe limitations on what can be talked about when renewing a nuclear plant permit, according to NRC rules.


Arnie Gundersen raises the case of Diablo Canyon, where only long-term and loud public action managed to drag the issue of earthquake safety into that power plant's relicensing procedure. Before the Fukushima Dai-ichi power plant was destroyed by an earth quake and subsequent tsunami, the NRC did not consider Diablo's location on a known fault line an issue which could be raised. Now a study if finally being done.
David Lochbuam brought up another issue about the way the Nuclear Regulatory Commission assesses risk.

Arnie also says the NRC only assumes wind will blow in one direction, when mapping out possible escaped radiation.


In thw segment on You tube, Arnie Gundersen also dismisses the common argument that a dose of radiation is the same risk as eating a banana. Our bodies recognize and handle banana radiation, whereas human-made materials, like Plutonium or Americium stay in the body, raising the possibility of cancer.


The frightening images of the Fukushima plant at night are explained by Gundersen. He has received video of the reactors that look like explosions. They are not. In the early days of the accident, in March, everyone could see steam and smoke coming from the reactors. It was loaded with radioactive particles.

But as the weather warmed in late April and May, the steam was hardly visible in day-time. It was still there, but did not stand out in the warm moist air. Yet the plant was still releasing lots of radioactive steam. That showed up in the night images, as the air was cooler, and the lights of the plant picked up the steam. We can never see the radioactivity, but we can see the steam that is carrying it at night.

[Note: bloggers like Lucas Whitefield Hixon and Alexander Higgins showed these steam images, with some people suggesting it might be another explosion at the Fukushima site. Gundersen says no.]


David Lochbaum commented on the proposed tent structure, meant to keep some radioactive particles from escaping from the damaged reactors. The radiation has been too high to get workers in to install such a screen, and there are still questions about whether the badly damaged buildings could support it, Lochbaum says.


Arnie Gundersen estimated the true costs of clean-up, decomissioning and compensation for the Fukushima accident in Japan could reach a quarter of a trillion dollars ($250 billion U.S.).


There was a discussion of the new nuclear plant being built in Finland. It uses a new design, but has already cost triple the original estimates, and is about five year late in construction. One feature of that plant is a proposed nearby waste storage site in a deep tunnel. Panelists questioned whether rising seas might compromise that tunnel, since the site is near the ocean.



In a second You tube video, David Lochbaum explains why the NRC does not enforce the regulations. This is a key report, and I transcribed it above.


In the third video segment, David Lochbaum explains the factors which could cause a nuclear power plant black-out, a total power loss like the one that destroyed the Fukushima nuclear complex.

Sandra Gavutis, C-10 Foundation:

"What kinds of credible events could in an extended station blackout in either of our two nuclear power plants Seabrook or Pilgrim? What measures are in place to respond to station blackouts?"

David Lochbaum, Union of Concerned Scientists:

"I'll start this. The grid could go out for a number of reasons. We've lost the Northeast grid in August of 2003 because a tree branch came into contact with a power line. It caused a large portion of the Northeast and Canada to lose power. It affected a number of nuclear power plants.

In June of 1998, a tornado struck the Davis-Besse plant outside of Toledo Ohio, just knocked the transmission towers, destroyed the lines. This inspired the made-for-TV movie "Atomic Twister".

The emergency diesel generators at that plant started and were doing the job, but they failed twenty six hours later - because it was June of 1998. The outside air temperature was 90 plus degrees. If you run a big engine in a room with bad ventilation it overheats. And they proved that once again. It's not worked yet.

So the diesel generators fried 26 hours later, but fortunately they were able to string a temporary power line back in 25 hours. They had one hour overlap between the power being restored and the diesel generators, instead of the other way around.
Most of the scenarios are usually you can have some severe weather act that knocks out the electrical grid. And then the diesel generators fail.

We've had diesel generators fail because they all share a common fuel tank. And we've had water inadvertently put into the fuel tanks. Water and fuel don't mix real well. We've had biological growth in the fuel tanks, damaged the oil.

We've had - Arnie mentioned the service water - we had plants in the Mid-West [inaudible] had its service water fail. The Wolf Creek plant in Kansas had ice on the lake freeze up against the intake structure that supplied the water for the service water pumps - an ice dam basically - that kept the water on the wrong side of safety systems.

So we've had a number of near misses, that a plant did have a loss of the electrical grid, that did have failure of the diesels. We've not yet had the combination where we lose the electrical grid and have the diesel generators fail. But the more times each of those wheels comes up bad, the more likely that they will come up bad at the same time that causes the American Fukushima."

Arnie Gundersen:

" In 1966, [inaudible] qualified with a relay failure. We were out for two days.
The nightmare scenario is something called the Carrington event, which is a solar flare large enough to knock down the grid in the country. It would damage transformers around the country and it would be about 10 years before the grid could recover.

(Radio Ecoshock covered the solar flare/Carrington event as a civilization killer in this program.)

That would obviously take away the off-site power. The nuclear plants assuming their diesel plants ran could run for about a week until they needed more fuel. And then the question is where would you get the fuel from if the grid is down and the refineries have stopped.

The NRC has been approached by some citizens in either Massachusetts or Maine on that very topic. And Congress has held hearings and I don't think they are making much progress on that.

It happens about every one hundred and fifty years so we don't worry about it."


One of the problems unearthed in the Japanese accident was the widespread use of untrained subcontract workers in nuclear power plants. In many cases, nobody effectively tracked their radiation exposure. Some contracted cancer and radiation sickness, without compensation. Is the same thing happening in America?

Here is another short transcript from the panel presentation at the Boston Public Library June 16th, 2011.

Host Sandra Gavutis, reading an audience question:

"Give the recurring theme that workers failed to evaluate problems in a more than cursory level, and given that human error is often a contributing factor to events, and given that other reports disclose that 87 percent of workers at Fukushima were subcontractors, can you provide at least a broad figure, on an industry-wide basis, as to how much responsibility is delegated to subcontractors in U.S. plants, and what responsibility the NRC has to ensure their qualifications."

David Lochbaum, Union of Concerned Scientists:

"The percentage of work done by subcontractors is somewhere in the ballpark of 20 percent to 25 percent at U.S. reactors.

Most of that work is done during refuelling outages when plants bring in truckloads of workers to do a lot of work in a short period of time. So they farm that out to subcontractors.

The NRC tries to ensure that companies use subcontractors that ensure that they are high quality work. That doesn't always lead to successful outcomes.

What we would like to see happen [when work ]was done by normal permanent workers of subcontractors, is that when mistakes are made, the NRC should require them to figure out why that happened. Why that wasn't found in testing after work was done. Why did the failure occur? Why was it?

We do a lot of testing and inspections, why didn't they find those problems?

Some companies have a very successful program of managing that work, in protecting against bad outcomes. They say it's for public safety, but they have a billion dollar that they'd as soon not become a billion dollar liability in a few minutes.

So they try to do it right. Those that don't get the message, that are unsuccessful, we would wish, want the NRC to sanction them, if it does't work right. To get them to follow the example of the companies that are doing it the right way - for all our goods."

Dr. Richard Clapp:

"I have one more to add to that. We were looking for this epididemological feasibility study, looking at populations that we might study, to see whether they have a spectrum of over-exposure.

One of the groups was the refueling workers. I think they are designated as 'jumpers' - a worker that will actually go from one plant to the next. We found out that they don't have good records. In fact some people were working as temporary workers in these refueling operations changed their name.

So they don't have a record that says that that [nuclear exposure] badge they had exceeded the limit.

So we don't even know how to keep track of the right person. Again, the problem of temporary workers is real, it's [not as bad as] some other countries, but it's a real exposure problem."


If quake zones, underground leaks, underwater wiring, and faulty backup are no obstacles to re-licensing, what could finally make the NRC turn down an application to extend nuclear plants for another 20 years, or even order a plant shut down? Experts agree, only one thing: bad concrete.

Host Sandra Gavutis:

"Do you think the concrete degredation problems at Seabrook [nuclear reactor in New England], assuming they continue to worsen, would be likely to derail the re-licensing process?"

David Lochbaum:

"I think the concrete problems are very severe. The NRC is taking them very seriously. I was at an industry conference in Feburary this year [2011]. The day we had NRC sponsored about license renewal extending life beyond sixty [years].
But the NRC Chairman was asked, along with every other industry person's focus: What is the Achilles heel? What is the thing that will stop license renewal? When does it stop?

And every answer, every person answered that it was concrete. That was the limiting factor. Some of the other things could be dealt with, but concrete is such a large problem that you can not replace a builiding, economically.

So I sat at that conference, wondering that person after person was saying that, (I'm not really a big concrete person.) But when you see the Seabrook report and how seriously the NRC is taking it, that may be ... they may rue the day they went in for early license renewal... early shut-down."

Arnie Gundersen:

"They are not the only reactor. Salem has had problems with it. It seems like especially those on the coast, because anybody who has ever been in a parking garage in the Northeast will realize that the salt will eat up the cars parked in the parking garage.

That same thing is happening in nuclear plants, but through salt water [inaudible] from below. So the Seabrooke plant is not alone in that problem."


Wednesday, June 15, 2011


"How Will We know the crisis has arrived?"

The signs are all around us. You know what I'm talking about.

As our first guest Ellen Laconte says right on the book cover: "Why so much is going wrong everywhere at once - and how Life teaches us to fix it."

This is a wise woman with new rules, Life Rules.

To give you the flavor of our interview, I'm just going to brazenly cut and paste from Ellen's excellent web site.

"We’re Not Done Yet: Five Ways Humanity Can Save Itself

Humans are a remarkable, resilient, and creative species. “We’ve used our brains for the past 6,000 years or so to try to outsmart Life,” LaConte says. “We can choose to use them to get Life-smart.”

Life has encoded in other species a set of rules for living—together—sustainably on this planet. It’s a sort of ten commandments for living within earth’s means. LaConte says we can consolidate those ten into what she calls “the 5 Ds”:

1) Downsize. Natural economies are locally and regionally self-reliant. If we consolidated the 100,000 years of modern humans into a 24-hour day, we’ve depended on a global economy only for the last minute of that day. Surely we can relearn how not to depend on it.

2) Diversify.
Investment counselors tell us to do it with our money. We should actually do it with our whole economic model. Our economies need to be as different from each other as the places in which they are located and the resources available to them there.

3) De-carbonize. Solar, wind, tidal, geothermal, and human and animal. Fossil fuels are out. They soon will be anyway at the rate we’re using them, and they’re changing the weather. De-carbonizing would tend to detoxify most of what we produce, too.

4) De-materialize: Use less of everything. Recycle; reuse everything. Produce nothing that can’t be food for or good for someone or something else alive. Rely on renewables.

5) Democratize: “As I show in my book, relationships and behaviors and methods of organization that are deeply democratic got built into Life’s operating

system early on because they permitted species to live within earth’s means,” says LaConte. “Democracy in natural economies is not about having more; it’s about lasting longer.”

# # #
About the Author:
A memoirist, magazine and book editor, and freelance writer, Ellen LaConte has been published in numerous magazines and trade journals on subjects ranging from organic gardening and alternative technologies to the evolution of consciousness, democracy theory, and complex systems. After three decades of homesteading in Connecticut and Maine, she gardens now on a half-acre in the Yadkin River watershed of the Piedmont bioregion of North Carolina.

About the Book:

Life Rules: Why so much is going wrong everywhere at once and how Life teaches us to fix it (Green Horizon, 2010, ISBN: 978-1-4502-5918-7, $21.95."

Or check out this article from Counter Punch: "The Future of Agriculture
Garden as If Your Life Depends On It--Because It Will

You really should listen to our radio interview. After we cover the converging crisis of our times, and some sane responses - I discover Ellen was a homesteader, and spent a lot of time with the iconic first homesteaders of the 21st century, New England's Scott and Helen Nearing.

In fact, Laconte wrote two books about the Nearings in later life. Scott and Helen wrote the long-lasting oft-republished series "Living the Good Life". As Scott passed away at age 100, he also died well. Helen also adapted a late life philosophy that could help a lot of people, as they age.

If you are interested in homesteading, or doing that in the city, check out the Nearing book series, and Lanconte's books about them.

To get you started, here is a link to a "Yes" magazine review of "On Light Alone" about Helen Nearing.

The book about "good dying" is called "Free Radical".


Out of that army of trouble, we'll go again at the big one, the developing shift in our climate. Right now the Arctic sea ice has retreated again, as we warm the atmosphere by burning fossil fuels. The oil companies causing the Arctic melt are pushing into the newly exposed waters.

How could it happen? The sea ice has barely exposed the fragile Arctic sea, and the very industry responsible for the big melt is already rushing in to ice-berg laden waters. It's another risky move from the oil addicts that rule the world these days.

What happens when their wells off the cold coast of Greenland blow, like the BP Deep Horizon did in the Gulf of Mexico? Greenpeace has a ship watching over, activists storming the rig in a last ditch effort to stop the Arctic oil rush.

We talk with Vicky Wyatt, climate campaigner for Greenpeace International.

See video of the Greenpeace ship asking for emergency plans from the giant rig. Of course there are plans says the company, Cairn Energy. Ask the government of Greenland. The government says the plans are secret.

And they should be. The BP Deep Horizon blew up surrounded by the heart of the U.S. oil industry in Louisiana, Texas the Gulf, to one of the world's largest oil companies with deep pockets. Cairn Energy has practically nothing around Greenland. Help is far away.

The company will just go bankrupt if billions of costs arise from a blow-out. If the accident happens in late August, the ice will come in soon, meaning the spill will just go on for another year, under the Arctic ice. There are far fewer organisms to eat spilled oil in the cold Arctic waters. Oil lasts and lasts, for decades if not centuries.

Emergency plan? We don't need to tell you the plan. I hope it's not cut-and-run toward Bankruptcy. Is that the real plan?

Drilling in the Arctic is just another sign of our madness as a species, as an oil-addicted culture. After fossil fuel burning exposed more ocean, it's like finding a person bleeding, and then discovering a new market selling the blood collected from the wound. Greenpeace is right, this needs to be stopped before it begins. Hell no!

Cairn Energy tells stock investors the Greenpeace protest didn't stop work, no problem. So why are they threatening to sue the famous non-profit organization?

Here is the story of how the Danish Navy removed the Greenpeace protest pod from the rig.

And speaking of extinction, check out this article by Joe Romm on methane from the Arctic permafrost. Then tell me you want to grab a whole bunch more fossil fuels from the Arctic, to make our final bonfire as a species, one tail-pipe at a time.


The show wraps up end up with new scientific research. All the news, this whole media circus is all about the humans. Our faces, our lives, our world.
What is happenng to the rest of living things, as the climate heat up? How do animals and insects tolerate heat? We'll talk to the investigators, two scientists, with the first clues.

Our guests are PHD candidate Jennifer Sunday, and Dr. Nicholas K. Dulvy, associate Biology professor at Simon Fraser University in Canada, and co-chair of the International Union for the Conservation of Nature. Along with Amanda E. Bates from Deakin University, Australia, they've just published a paper in the Proceedings of the Royal Society. Don't let the title scare you off: "Global Analysis of thermal tolerance and latitute in ectotherms". It's about the heat tolerance of animals.

Their article was published in the Proceedings of the Royal Academy.

Serious scientists, whole Academies of Science from many countries, now predict the world will warm by four degrees this century. That means hotter, meaner summers for you and me. More records, more heat deaths, more drought, more crop loss.

The little creatues are finely attuned to heat. It is a timing signal, a challenge, and for some, a threat of extinction. But how much extinction? Dr. Dulvy, who is deeply associated with the conservation movement, says about 20 percent of all species were expected to go extinct by 2100, on our current path of emissions and climate change.

That calculation was based on the idea that creatures would be pushed further toward the Poles, to escape heat, and then beyond their level of adaptability.

We could picture animals moving up mountains sides, until they reach the top, and run out of room. Or perhaps insects like butterflies would move as far as the Arctic, but then there is nowhere further to go, other than extinction.

Underlying this worry was the generally held idea that some creatures are adapted to the climate of a certain latitude. I am not a scientist, and I'm likely going to a little off, but I think our guests are saying research shows that idea is not correct.

Let's take the same species of frogs. We presumed those living at the Equator have a higher tolerance for heat than the same animals living in Alaska. But research shows that is not true. For one thing, the Alaska frogs may experience for a few days the same high levels of heat that tropical frogs have for long periods. It turns out also, that the frogs use the same techniques to handle heat, and have for millions of years. They had to: the climate changed many times, including ice ages and hot ages, during their evolution.

This research, based on thousands of studies that were carefully organized and catalogued, may alter our calculations about extinction as climate change progresses. Find out more here.

Both Canadian study authors, from Simon Fraser University in British Columbia, Canada - have expertise in sea creatures. Their study showed that the general tenet of similar heat tolerance among insects and cold-blooded animals on land - does not apply so well in the oceans. Marine species may be more specialized to their latitudes. Is it because they had less variation in climate (expressed as heat) than land animals?

This whole subject of how other species will handle the predicted global warming, and whether they will survive, needs a lot more research. My impression was that our guests have almost founded a new technique for the subject. Perhaps that is going too far, but certainly this is important new knowledge for all of us concerned about climate change in the natural world.

One hour, three interviews, one goal. Welcome to all our new listeners on stations across North America, and around the world. This is Radio Ecoshock.


Time ran out. I never got to my big stack of jaw-dropping climate news.

The new heat records in the U.S., the early mountain snow melt in the Rockies that may parch California agriculture.

Amazing drought in China grounds boats, dries out crops, kills off wild plants.

But then just as we went to air - parts of China were hit with devastating floods!!

Another big drought in the Amazon means more of that great forest is releasing carbon to the sky and the oceans. "Two Extreme Droughts In Five Years Alarm Scientists"

Here is a Bloomberg article on droughts killing off crops around the world.

The Canadian and Northern U.S. wheat crops are in danger, due to late high flooding of fields. It's been too wet to plant so far into June. The crops will go in eventually, down millions of acres - but an early frost in the Fall could slap down this year's production of food.

According to the Globe and Mail (Canada) the price of wheat shot up over 60 percent in the past year. It's now about $7.60 U.S. a bushel. The price of corn has doubled, running around $7.55 per bushel. Maybe you can afford the price hikes at the supermarket, but these are riot levels for the billions of poor around the world.

There is even a drought in Europe. Food production there will be down.

We don't know if some nuclear power plants will have to close for lack of cooling water. Governments are scrambling to respond, but the warming is just too big. We are past that point now, past the point of emergency aid and government plans.

The natural world is acting on it's own, now that we have passed the tipping point.

Please keep tuned to Radio Ecoshock, as we report the big picture, and find more ways for all of us to bring the big change. As Ellen Laconte wisely said, we humans must "rise to the occasion".

I'm Alex. Get more from our web site at

Thank you for caring about your world.

Alex Smith

Wednesday, June 8, 2011

Your Renewable Energy Path Now

Radio Stations: music clip this week: "Don't Fear the Reaper" by Blue Oyster Cult.

Two 29 minute segments, leaving time for station ID/announcements available here:
Part 1
Part 2

Welcome to Earthbeat and Radio Ecoshock. I'm Alex Smith. In this show, you will learn how to slash your carbon emissions, while gaining energy independence - hearing from people who do it now. As climate, peak oil, and economy crash into a perfect storm, get ready to keep going, get off fossil fuels, and get off the grid.

This week we are talking with off-grid specialists, about your future with renewable energy. Our first guest, Cam Mather was already a publisher when his family set off for an off-grid home in the wilderness.

It was a treat to talk with Cam - not just because it reminded me of my own 10 years without electricity in the back-country. Cam loaded up the interview with his own experience, and a ton of tips from his how-to book published by

Just one example. Think of starting your renewable energy journal with a solar panel, hooked up to some batteries? But wait. If you are serious about getting off fossil fuels, one of your biggest energy requirements comes from heating water.

Cam suggests starting with a solar hot water heater - the type that will run year-round, even in freezing weather. His cost $6,000, but Cam claims it paid for itself in 5 years, and now provides a 20 percent return on his investment. Compare that to the one or two percent interest you get from the bank for savings lately. Solar is pays better than the stock market, and it's a sure thing.

If you are planning a new home, or a retrofit of an existing place, you may want to install a ground source heat pump, even before solar. That will heat your home in the cold months, and cool it off in the developing global heat storms. Again, the first cost is expensive, but the returns keep paying you back. If you run the heat pump with solar panels, the whole rig is carbon-free - except for the original energy used in manufacture, and the carbon burned to deliver it.

You won't have to worry about oil prices, or unstable nations abroad.

Living in Canada with plenty of trees, and no neighbours nearby, Cam uses wood heat in the winter. His friend engineer Bill Kemp has designed a simple device to heat water with a woodstove, and that should be in the upcoming revised edition of "The Renewable Energy Handbook", Mather says.

The whole interview is packed with the Mather family story. Choosing land for independence. How the women of the family handled the big change from the city. Making money over the Net, and selling produce. What worked and what didn't, over 14 years of living off-grid, aiming for the carbon free household.


Most of us won't be leaving the city any time soon. Let's see what energy solutions we can use right now. We go to the UK, for our second interview with Nick Rosen, the author of "How To Live Off Grid" now updated with a new American version, titled "Off the Grid: Inside the Movement for More Space, Less Government, and True Independence in Modern America".

Nick Rosen is a documentary film maker, with serious productions for British television. He's been published in the Guardian newspaper, The Times, and many magazines.

Again, Nick is at the centre of a whole movement of people. He's traveled extensively to visit and document off-grid homes in Europe and the United States. Rosen promises he is working on a new film documentary on off-grid life. I'd really like to see that.

We get two examples: the nurse going broke in the Northern U.S., getting part-time shifts, cuts loose to a mobile home on land in Texas, off-grid. Doing well.

There are also a slew of homes in the U.S. Southwest using a combination of adobe-like mud around discarded tires. It lasts a long time, stays warmer in the winter, and cooler in the summer.

I've seen a strange example myself. Near the Salton Sea in southern California is an abandoned military base that has been "free camping" to all comers for at least 20 years. It's called "Slab City". The place fills up every winter, with everything from VW bus campers all the way to gigantic half million dollar motor homes.

But there is a contingent of full-timers at the site - enough that the nearby County has to run a school bus to the camp sites every school day. A few dozen families are squatting free on undeeded land.

At the entrance is one of the strangest sites you will ever see made by human hand. Over many years, an older gent with a religious bent has built a kind of catheral of car and truck tires, plus straw, with adobe poured all around. Find a photo of "Salvation Mountain" down a little on this page.

There are many rooms, running helter-skelter, all painted different colors, as the builder uses donated paint cans from town. The left overs and bad tint jobs end up on this structure build into a clay cliff, over-looking the Salton Sea.

He has post-cards.

But this is a serious building technique, which lasts a long, long time in the dry climate of the South West. Anyone can build with it. Check out these "Earthships" using tires and rammed earth. Nick Rosen has found some beautiful homes built from this low-carbon, waste-recycling material.

Nick has a growing list of reasons why people go off-grid.

* Some do it for the money. They can't afford the power bills, or screwed up their payments with the local power monopoly. Others just want to save money, now that electricity and heating oil is going through the roof, and only aimed higher.

* Many don't trust central authority of centralized energy. There was a burst of off-grid, or at least alternative energy back-up, after the three day power outage in the U.S. Northeast several years ago.

In the Canadian province of Quebec, some lost power for several weeks. And we all know what just happened in Japan to the nuclear plants, and the rolling blackouts there. Lefties, libertarians, deep Bible end-of-days believers - plus a whole bunch of families who doubt the future is going to be stable, are going off-grid. That includes some town folks, in addition to those going for a rural retreat.

* Some places have no electricity. That makes them affordable to buy, as long as your can provide your own.

* People concerned with Peak Oil think fossil energy will become prohibitivley expensive, rationed, or not available at all for periods of time. No worries if you can make your own.

* Climate change, natural disasters (like a solar flare), terrorism or civil unrest could knock out centralized power sytems.

* Oh yeah, if we keep on using fossil fuels we wreck the world for future generations and may join the other species in extinction. I realize that's low on everybody's list of motivations, but it seems important, doesn't it? Shouldn't we at least try, set an example, be part of the wave of renewable energy?

Find Nick's latest book by clicking on the upper right hand corner of this web site:


I lived without electricity for about 10 years. Our cabin on an abandoned farm was just too far away from the power poles. I didn't trust nuclear power anyway, and wanted nothing to do with it.

When the nuke plant blows, I thought, I won't take the blame. Still true. Everyone is held hostage to the worst site, the worst design, the worst construction and operation of all the nuclear plants in the Northern Hemisphere. When Japan blows, we got the radioactive dust in North America and Europe.

I digress.

We did use fossil fuel to get around in an old pickup truck. And after a few years, we installed a propane tank with fridge, stove, and two lights. That was an amazing change. Still no electricity or phone. For the first years, the only bill I ever got was around $200 a year for taxes. That's it. No monthly bills at all. Hardly anyone can understand the freedom that brings.

Cam Mather talks about the false sense of "off-grid" when using propane, which is still a fossil fuel emitting greenhouse gases. It's a struggle to look for alternatives, but of course there are plenty of other ways to cook, cool, and heat.

In our farm retreat, we watched TV about two hours a week, with a little black and white set running off a car battery. Energy limited how much we could watch, but TV was just a lot of propaganda anyway. Still is.

The trips to town replenished the battery. Solar and wind were too expensive back then. Now it would be much easier.

All our heat and hot water came from the big wood heater, or the old-fashioned wood cook stove.

One last point about energy effiency in building. When we were retrofitting the cabin, into a house, I studied how the New Englanders got through the seasons, before the age of oil, or even coal in America. One obvious point about the long-standing, long used homes: the fire place and chimney were in the CENTRE of the house, not on an outside wall, or end wall.

Rock has very little thermal resistance. If the chimney rock or brick or blocks are exposed to the outside, you bring as much cold inside as your fireplace can create, unless you burn for many hours straight. And when your fire goes low or out, the exposed chimney becomes a cooler in winter.

If you have the chance to plan your home for wood heat, by all means put whatever pipe inside as long as possible, with little exposure to the outside. If you already have an exposed block or rock chimney, consider adding a layer of insulation to the outside. It may not look as pretty or romantic, but you will save a lot of energy, and have a more comfortable home.

Look into pre-fossil technologies to get hints of what to do for the coming days, as the oil, gas and coal run out. Then create a hybrid of past knowledge with present technology, like solar or ground source heat pumps.

Find all our interviews as free mp3 downloads at the web site, Just look in our program archives, or in the audio-on-demand menu. Point your friends to this show blog at - with a program player right on the page. Or download the audio (by clicking the title above) to pass around, to help your friends and neighbors.

Next week, we leave solutions behind, to catch up on the latest reports and climate science. No matter what your economy felt like, the world set a new record for carbon emissions in 2010. We went over 30 gigatons. At that pace, we are headed toward an unimaginable climate disaster. A huge shift, not seen for more than a hundred million years, is headed our way. Many species will not survive. Humans may go extinct. But hey, anything for another billion dollars in dirty profits, another
mansion in soon-to-be-flooded Florida or the French Riviera.

Will the recent storms and strange weather around the world wake us up? Next week we'll examine reports from Australia, from the International Energy Agency. We'll try to capture the wave of recent climate science. And we'll join Greenpeace in the Arctic, for the next big-oil move to pump more carbon into the sky. The Arctic, it turns out, contains a giant carbon warehouse. What happens there will determine history for all living things.

Please support the return of Earthbeat, by going to The host Daphne Wysham is a really good green journalist, with a blend of activism that is hard to replace. We need her back on the air, and you can help.

I'm Alex Smith. Start your Summer listening with our past Radio Ecoshock programs, as free mp3 downloads, at Fill up a CD or IPOD. Take it in, and pass it on. Take what you know, and act.

Thank you for listening, and thank you for caring about our world.