Wednesday, January 1, 2014

Scandals of Nuclear Waste

As we found out from Fukushima, when a nuclear reactor blows up or leaks, it's everybody's problem. Many of my listeners were sprinkled with radiation from that accident in Japan.

The same applies to nuclear waste. It will be dangerous for hundreds of thousands of years, threatening cancers and genetic mutations for all conceivable human time - just so we can waste more power in our homes and business now.

This week we hear about scandals in the American and British nuclear industry. Even the temporary stop-gap solutions for storing waste turn out to be untested, ludicrous, or known-to-be dangerous. They, or is it we, do it anyway. Our descendants have to figure out an answer. They will pay and pay, like a kind of debt slavery from the past, for tending the nuclear waste of today.

Following a successful lawsuit brought by four environmental groups, the American nuclear industry must provide an environmental risk assessment for nuclear waste. Some say the Nuclear Regulatory Commission is evading the ruling, and the requirement of local democracy, but ramming through a one-size-fits all generic risk assessment for all the nation's power plants. You'll hear two points of view from the NRC hearing in Perrysberg Ohio, and I'll talk with long-time anti-nuclear activist Kevin Kamps about the fallacy of safe storage for highly radioactive waste.

Is Britain doing any better? Another veteran, nuclear engineer John Large tells us about the growing mountain of plutonium in the UK, and the big risks of nuclear terrorism.

This isn't going to end well. I'm Alex Smith, and this is Radio Ecoshock.

Download or listen to this Radio Ecoshock show (140101) in CD Quality or Lo-Fi


Before we go to the nuclear waste fiasco in Great Britain with John Large, let's hear just two of the witnesses at the Nuclear Regulatory Commission hearing on December 2nd, 2013 in Perrysburg, Ohio. This was one of 13 public hearings held around the country. Free Speech Radio News reporter Evan Davis sent me the recordings and his interviews, which inspired this program. Evan is also with WCRS community radio in Columbus, Ohio

The majority of the public attending were strongly opposed to nuclear power, in numbers of speakers and volume of applause. First we will hear a pro-nuclear argument, followed by a passionate voice against. Each speaker was given three minutes.

In the show I play two clips. The first is a pro-nuclear power speaker from the electrical industry, who says the threat of global warming demands nuclear power. The second is a young mother who is very passionately against.


One of our main guests this week is Kevin Kamps from Beyond Nuclear. I really respect Kevin's long history of studying the nuclear industry, and appearing wherever he can. A while back Kevin toured Australia and New Zealand on the waste issue and uranium mining. These days he's appearing at the various NRC hearings on nuclear waste disposal - and fighting to get sane policy going.

Most of our guests, including Arnie Gundersen of, call for a crash program to get spent nuclear fuel out of dangerous and overcroweded fuel pools and into cement casks. It's true that only the fuel in cement casks was safe during the Fukushima tsunami and subsequent power outage. The casks require no power for cooling, so they could survive a solar storm blackout as well. Dry casks are also known as ISFSI's Independent Spent Fuel Storage Installation.

A map showing all the locations of ISFSI's in the United States is here. It's not hard to imagine circumstances leading to long power outages. We could have a major solar flare, like the Carrington Event of 1859, knocking out all power transformers in the country, probably for months if not years. Or, in the coming decades, we might see a nuclear war, or just civil unrest during a terrible economic breakdown. Can nuclear plants survive those challenges?

But alas, like everything with nuclear power, there is no really good answer. It turns out the industry has been using an old design of cask to hold a new type of nuclear waste that is twice as potent. They were never designed for that. The industry and government regulators know that, but allow this practice to continue.

The cement casks are an interim measure, and will have to be opened to transfer the fuel, or just to replace them in a hundred years or less. The trouble is, despite industry assurances, this has never been done! Kevin describes a case where an operator and the NRC promised to open a faulty cask but then found this was too dangerous. We don't know how to get that fuel out! Unbelievable but true.

A test in 1998 on a better-made German cask showed that a missle could destroy the container and spray nuclear materials all around. We have little confidence these casks can be protected from determine terrorists. Read about all the problems with dry cask storage in this article by Kevin Kamps.

There really is no good answer for nuclear waste - other than to stop making more of it!

Listen to this interview with Kevin Kamps in CD Quality or Lo-Fi


Nuclear expert John Large

What happens when you collect a lifetime of atomic waste on a small island in the North Atlantic? Nothing good.

Our guest is an accomplished nuclear engineer. He's advised teams raising damaged nuclear submarines, written reports for Greenpeace and Friends of Earth, testified as an expert witness. He's appeared on international media countless times.

Radio Ecoshock is pleased to welcome back Britian's John Large.

We begin with John's testimony on safety at the San Onofre nuclear plant in California. The owners spent half a billion dollars on an upgrade, but then found the Mitsubishi components were shaking dangerously. After a public outcry, partly based on the experience of a tsunami at Fukushima (San Onofre is right on the coast), and partly due to the known earth quake risk in the area - the plant was closed.

John Large notes this is one of the first plants shut down due to action by an environmental group, Friends of Earth.

We go on to discuss Great Britains huge nuclear waste problem. In order to gather plutonium for their nuclear weapons program, the UK made contracts to take in nuclear waste from varous countries around the world. So ships laden with highly radioactive waste arrive in Britain to unload their cargo.

Some of that waste is returned in smaller packets after processing, but most of it stays in Britain, including a growing mountain of plutonium. The country has no sensible plan to dispose of it, and that is a risk of terrorism.

Unlike the United States, nuclear waste from local power plants is not stored on site in huge cooling pools virtually forever. Instead it is transferred to a central depot which can be more secure. That is Windscale, formerly known as Sellafield (the location of one of the world's first nuclear disasters). Britain no longer dumps barrels of nuclear waste into the ocean - something Greenpeace protested vehemently. But there is no plan to deal with the waste, other than to see what future generations will do with it.

Check out this revealing interview with an acknowledged world expert. Listen to the John Large interview in CD Quality or Lo-Fi


I suppose my opinion is no big surprise for listeners. My questions about nuclear power began in the 1970's. I then lived near a uranium mining town, followed by 8 years of research for the Greenpeace anti-nuclear campaign. More recently, Radio Ecoshock has done dozens of programs on dangerous nuclear reactors, especially following the Fukushima nuclear disaster in Japan.

The very day of that accident I issued an emergency warning podcast which still stands the test of time. Radio Ecoshock was among the first to call a triple-melt down at the site, while the Japanese and American authorities were still misleading us.

Even so, I was still shocked to find that the dry cask option for nuclear waste is so shoddy, so crazy.

So it's just a hundred-year stall, if that. We'll pass our dangerous waste on to our grandchildren. I cannot accept that. I cannot accept an "industry" that carries on with no solutions for the future, and world-threatening risks for the present. That isn't an industry. It's a sign of extinction-level insanity.

That's my opinion. What's yours? How will you act now that you know?

Thank you Evan Davis for inspiring this program. You too can learn how to record public events to share around the world. We need more people doing that.

I'm Alex Smith. Download past programs at our web site Help us keep going if you can.

While you are still free, please join me next week for more Radio Ecoshock.

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