Wednesday, September 11, 2013

Where Are We Really? Radio Ecoshock returns.

Analysis of climate situation by Paul Beckwith, U of Ottawa. Plus Arnie Gundersen updates Fukushima leaks and radioactive plume in the Pacific, heading for the U.S. Radio Ecoshock 130911 1 hour.


Welcome back to the Fall 2013 season of Radio Ecoshock, broadcast on more than 70 college and community stations around the world.

This is Alex Smith. Big news continues to pour in from around the world. We've got a lineup of guests, experts and activists, waiting to make sense of it all.

As I left for a break in July, I issued a special podcast on the global heat wave. If you missed that, join the thousands who download it from our web site at At the time of broadcast, the heat wasn't quite complete around the Northern Hemisphere. The Russian Arctic seemed still coolish, and no word from China, although Japan was suffering through record heat.

One week later, Siberia went into an extended heat alert with hundreds of fires. South East China went down to a killer heat wave, setting the highest coastal temperature records ever seen on the Pacific Coast of Asia.

So the circle went complete. I'm not sure if this is absolutely new, but in 25 years of reporting climate news, I can't remember a super hemispheric heat wave like this. We can't call it a global heat wave, because of course it's winter in the southern hemisphere. But we can call it global warming, and 2013 is the year when we entered into a certain phase of climate change.

It's still cooking, with the hottest days of summer in Toronto Canada striking in mid-September (beach time!) and more records expected in Vancouver. Strange... what could it be? I'll have lots more on all that later in the program, as we do a climate run-down with Paul Beckwith, a postgrad climate scientist at the University of Ottawa. Paul is a favorite climate correspondent, really linked in to the latest in both extreme weather events and the latest science behind them.

Download this Radio Ecoshock show in CD Quality (56 MB) or Lo-Fi (14 MB)


No doubt you've heard more about the continuing nuclear disaster at Fukushima Japan. Three reactors melted down in March 2011. A fourth had a fire and explosion in the fuel storage area. Tokyo Electric Power Company, or TEPCO, has been struggling to contain radiation leaks ever since. Is Japan safe? Is the Pacific being polluted with radiation? What about the whole Northern Hemisphere?

I'm Alex Smith. Radio Ecoshock welcomes back nuclear expert and whistle-blower Arnie Gundersen of Fairewinds Associates.

Arnie Gundersen

Here is a brief wrap up on what I think is the world's worst nuclear disaster. Three reactor cores have escaped out of the containment. Nobody knows where this glowing hot stuff is.

Thousands of tons of groundwater are passing through the highly radioactive melted "corium" every day. Some of that is being captured by TEPCO and put into an endlessly growing tank farm. The rest is leaking into the Pacific Ocean.

In August TEPCO admitted it was missing 300 tons of highly radioactive water from one of it's tanks. You see, they only had two men checking all those tanks, which are hastily built (and not ready for any earthquake). The people checking the tanks did not even wear a dosimiter, so there is no way of knowing how much radiation they were exposed to.

Now with the leak exposed, TEPCO has promised more inspectors. It's a joke. This Japanese utility, as Arnie Gundersen tells us, is a nuclear plant operator (and not a very good one) - not a world-class engineering firm. Plus, they have gone more or less bankrupt, and don't have the budget to handle this situation.

Finally, after a lot more press and international concern, the Japanese government is going to add more fund, but not much more, because they are broke too.

If these tanks rupture in a big way, or if the fuel rod storage ponds suspended in the damaged building Four at Fukushima Daiichi collapse, the whole Northern Hemisphere will be bathed in radiation. Surely this is an international issue which requires a huge response. But both our media and our governments are downplaying the risk.

What a joke that Tokyo, which was bathed in radiation that will last at least 50 years (during the March 2011 accident) was awarded the Olympics! Tokyo, the city that shines at night! If there is a major leak at Fukushima, Tokyo will be evacuated by 2020 anyway. Even during the 2011 accident, the government considered evacuating the city.

In a previous Radio Ecoshock interview, Gundersen said the Japanese should start unloading nuclear fuel bundles from Reactor 4, before that building collapses. TEPCO has been building a stronger outside structure to hold the heavy cranes, after the original cranes collapsed.

Arnie is a nuclear fuel rod expert. He worked as a nuclear engineer and executive in exactly that field. Gundersen warns the fuel rods have likely been damaged during the accident. One or several may break during attempted extraction, releasing highly radioactive gases. The whole site would have to be evacuated for a time. Expect more air-borne radiation releases, for Japan, and for the whole hemisphere.

I asked Arnie when the plume of radioactive water that has been leaking into the Pacific non-stop since the accident two and half years ago - will reach the west coast of the United States and Canada. Maps of ocean currents show the worst radiation will hit California and the Baja Peninsula. Arnie thinks it should arrive sometime in late 2014 - and he says that radiation in the ocean is 10 times more than we got from all the atomic bomb testing. Sure it will be diluted in the Pacific, but a whole ocean has been poisoned. Meanwhile, all the fish that bioconcentrate radioactivity, predator fish like salmon and tuna, are feeding out there in the Pacific. Do you think we can get either the American or Canadian governments to test our fish for radioactivity? Canada promises it won't do testing. If the U.S. is testing, they are not releasing the data. Consumers don't know what they are getting. It's time for a little transparency, and governments that protect their people rather than the nuclear or fishing industries.


Arnie Gundersen has repeatedly been an expert witness in the effort to get the dangerous and aging Vermont Yankee reactor closed. It's located on the sea, 5 miles south of Brattleboro in New England, and owned by Entergy Corp.

Just like Fukushima, the Vermont Yankee plant is an old-style General Electric boiling water reactor. Under the thick concrete pipes are leaking. It's damn dangerous.

Finally, Entergy has announced that in 2014, when the current batch of nuclear fuel would have to be replaced, the Vermont Yankee reactor will shut down instead. That's great news for New England and the planet.

The sad news is Entergy wants to wait 60 years to decommission the plant! So this radioactive mess will sit there for another generation. Our grandchildren will pay huge costs for the power we used today. That's an inter-generational crime.


Climate change has certainly shown up on planet Earth in a big way these past few months. Records are falling so fast, with so many new changes, its beyond our ability to track it all. Let's do a recap of some big climate news with one of our popular guests, Paul Beckwith.

Paul is a PHD graduate student in the Laboratory for Paleoclimatology and Climatology, and part-time Professor, at the University of Ottawa in Canada. He has a Masters in Physics as well.

We start with Paul's prediction that the Arctic sea ice could break up this year, if there was a significant Arctic storm as well. That didn't happen. Although the ice retreated to levels that would have been astounding a decade ago, it didn't meet last year's record.

Paul says the climate is zig-zagging back and forth unpredictably. Last year temperatures over the Arctic Ocean were quite high, while land temperatures up north were cooler. This year was the opposite. It was coolish over the ice itself, while land temperatures in Alaska, Canada's north and Siberia hit new records in some places.

Science, Beckwith says, will have to be flexible, learning from the instability.

Methane was quite high over the Arctic again this year, more than double the pre-industrial levels. There was no mega-burst (yet). Most of the methane came from melting of permafrost on land where snow cover was lost very early in the season.

We talk about the grossly under-reported floods in the Russian far east, especially along the Amur River. These were floods not seen before. President Putin flew out to speed up some action to help the many evacuees. The worst hit area was in the republic Buryatia, located in the south-central Siberia along the shore of Lake Baikal and on the border with Mongolia.

At the same time, there were hundreds of forest fires ranging in Siberia.

Of course, most of us are only interested in our local area. Fires in Yosemite California get lots of coverage. Fire and floods in Russia? Not so much. Paul points out that's a huge problem when we are trying to deal with global climate change. People push their local politicians for action (or maybe they will eventually) but only if they get hit themselves.

There's lots more to this interview with Paul Beckwith, as we cover some of the extreme weather events this past summer, and in fact this past week. Nobody can keep up with it all. That alone is further evidence that climate change has arrived.

Beckwith is breaking the mold of the climate scientist who keeps quiet for years, and then releases a paper with results. He's more like the communicator the late Stephen Schneider suggested in his book "Science As a Contact Sport". We can't wait 6 years for the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change to publish out-of-date results says Beckwith.

One of the best ways to keep up with Paul is through his Facebook page. He also blogs for Arctic News, Sierra Club Canada and others.

I agree. I'd like to see buildings full of full-time scientists on every continent charged with the duty of tracking climate change, today, and in the distant past. This is a planetary emergency, and so far we have a tiny budget, volunteer scientists, and governments who are out promoting fossil fuels as the next big job wave! It's like planned extinction.

On the other side, millions and millions of people know the climate is not right. They are waking up. Will a demand for change come in time?


Many thanks to all the people who donated or signed up for our monthly Radio Ecoshock membership at our web site, I haven't had time to thank you all personally.

This past month has been almost constant turmoil for me. Aside from vehicle breakdowns, we are renovating and preparing to move out of Vancouver, to a rural village. More about that in coming shows.

One week ago, the main hard drive on my production computer died. I'm working on the fly from an ancient box out of our basement. Without the help of Radio Ecoshock listeners I'm not sure we could afford the repairs.

The refurbished audio computer should be back online in a week or so. My next show may be right out of a moving van.

These changes in my personal life seem to echo from the big changes happening on the planet, and in our society. I tell myself we are all going to need fall-back plans, preparation, and an ability to adapt or move, perhaps on short notice.

Our parents and grandparents went through two world wars and a great depression. If my reading of the climate, energy, and economic scene is correct, they had it easy. Expect to enjoy life, sure, but expect to struggle as well.

I'm Alex Smith. Thank you for joining me in this new season of Radio Ecoshock.

Our music clips this week came from the marvelous Suvarna, plus "Till the Day Is Done" by REM.

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