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Cantarow and Levy: Could Nuclear Disaster Come to America?
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On March 11, 2011, following a massive earthquake and a devastating tsunami, the cores of three of the reactors at Japan’s Fukushima nuclear plant melted down with horrific results. Radioactive cesium, with a half-life of 30 years, contaminated almost 12,000 square miles of the country, an area about the size of the state of Connecticut. The government considered 12.5 square miles around the plant so poisoned that its population was evacuated and it was declared a permanent “exclusion” zone. (At Chernobyl in Ukraine, three decades after the other great nuclear disaster of our era, a 1,000 square mile exclusion zone is still in place.) One hundred and twenty thousand evacuees, some from areas outside the exclusion zone, have still not gone home and some undoubtedly never will, despite a vast decontamination program run by the government. (Sixteen to twenty-two million bags of contaminated soil and debris will someday be buried in a vast landfill near the plant, but it may take decades to get them there and that’s only the beginning of the problems to come.) And let’s not forget that, according to a report from the French Institute for Radiological Protection and Nuclear Safety, the ocean waters around Fukushima received “the largest single contribution of radionuclides to the marine environment ever observed.”

To this day, five years later, eerie photos continue to emerge from now eternally deserted towns miles from the plant, thanks to what’s called “dark tourism.” But bad as the Fukushima nuclear disaster was, it might have been so much worse. Japan’s then-prime minister, Naoto Kan, has only recently admitted that he was so worried by the unraveling catastrophe and the swirl of misinformation around it that he almost ordered the evacuation of Tokyo, the capital, and all other areas within 160 miles of the plant. The country, he said, “came within a ‘paper-thin margin’ of a nuclear disaster requiring the evacuation of 50 million people.”

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Keep that in mind as you read today’s report from Alison Rose Levy and Ellen Cantarow, who has in recent years covered citizen resistance to the desires of Big Energy for TomDispatch. Since the United States used nuclear weapons on Hiroshima and Nagasaki in August 1945, nuclear power has always had a fearsome aspect. In the 1950s, the administration of President Dwight Eisenhower began promoting “the peaceful atom” in an attempt to take some of the sting out of atomic power’s bad rep. (As part of that project, Eisenhower helped then-ally the Shah of Iran set up a “peaceful” nuclear program, the starting point for Washington’s more modern nuclear conflicts with that country.) Unfortunately, as we’ve been reminded, from Three Mile Island to Chernobyl to Fukushima, there is ultimately a side to nuclear power that couldn’t be less “peaceful,” even in a peacetime setting. As you think about the Indian Point nuclear power plant, the subject of today’s post, and its long history of problems and crises that only seem to be compounding, keep in mind how close Tokyo came to utter catastrophe and then think about the vast New York metropolitan area and what any of us would be able to do other than shelter in place if disaster were someday to strike up the Hudson River.

(Republished from TomDispatch by permission of author or representative)
 
• Category: Science • Tags: Nuclear Energy 
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  1. OutWest says:

    We had a working salt-cooled thorium breeder reactor 50 years ago at Oak Ridge. There was a similar gas cooled commercial breeder reactor in Colorado that was abandoned because of rather trivial startup problems maybe 50 years ago. Apparently the only reason the Oak Ridge unit was shut down was because it was too safe and didn’t produce the ingredients for A-bombs.

    Before condemning nuclear power some effort should be made to cut through the government blackout and be made aware of less costly, safer thorium breeder technology.

    • Replies: @Singh
  2. Not one person died at Fukushima as a result of radiation exposure. By contrast, some 30,000 died in the tsunami just because they lived too close to the water.

    It’s probably true that people displaced from the area around the power plants will never go home. But areas vulnerable to tsunami are being rapidly repopulated even though the people who lived there should never go home either!

    Based on facts in the real world, what is most likely to result in the greatest loss of life — re-starting Japan’s fleet of nuclear plants, or moving large populations back into tsunami-prone areas?

    You guys who write disaster articles need to figure out what the real threats are.

  3. Singh says:
    @OutWest

    Thorium is stunted because India has larger reserves than the next few combined.

    • Replies: @OutWest
  4. OutWest says:
    @Singh

    India and China have development efforts under way to exploit the technology. But they don’t want to be too successful and end a good job.

    There’s adequate thorium available and, like oil and rare earth metals, exploitation can be a spur to competition.

  5. Rehmat says:

    American investigative journalist Jim Stone claimed on April 29, 2011 that Israeli Mossad was behind the Fukushima nuclear disaster to punish Tokyo for offering Iran its services in processing of nuclear waste.

    http://www.jimstonefreelance.com/stuxnet.html

  6. Here are a few lessons that emerged from the chaos:

    1. Nuclear power plants are as safe as the companies and regulating authorities require them to be. Trust them as much as you trust those agencies. In Japan, that should mean ‘not very much’. Geological surveys were altered to make long faultlines directly under proposed reactors into two shorter faults, thereby reducing the perceived risk. Back up systems failed the common sense test (no manual overrides, no radiation-resistant robots, the back up generator only lasted for a few hours etc.) Fukushima Dai-Ichi was designed to work perfectly just so long as nothing went wrong.

    2. Have multiple reactors plus spent fuel rods all on the same site is a bad idea. If something goes wrong with one then it is hard to get in to manage the others, compounding the problem.

    3. Nuclear power is only affordable because the power companies do not have to pay for full insurance. They can’t because an accident could render the surrounding area unusable for centuries. No underwriter can cover that. The risk falls on the taxpayer, effectively subsidising this form of power.

    A couple of other points to consider: radioactive waste lasts for thousands of years. Are nuclear power companies really paying for thousands of years of storage under armed guard? This is surely being effectively subsidised by governments. No one else can pay for that. Also, uranium and other potential fuel sources are limited. If nuclear power became more popular we’d run out in a few decades.

    Requiring nuclear power companies to pay for their expenses like any other business would pretty much solve the problem.

    • Replies: @Rehmat
  7. The meltdown at Chernobyl was deliberately started. It was supposed to be a test of safety equipment performed by the day crew, but they didn’t get to it, so an unqualified night crew set the reactor on a course to meltdown to see if the safety equipment kicked on. It didn’t. Because they had switched it off. Pure freakin genius.

    The accident at Chernobyl occurred in April, 1986, but parts of the plant continued operation until December, 2000. Pripyat, the town closest to the Chernobyl plant, is today less radioactive than a number of the beaches in Brazil.

    Three Mile Island occurred because a valve on the pressurizer was stuck open. All indications were that the pressurizer was not working, but the indicator said the valve was closed and no one bothered to check until it was too late. Rising radiation levels in the containment building clearly confirmed that there was a leak, but no one wanted to take responsibility for shutting the reactor down.

  8. Rehmat says:
    @Nikolai Vladivostok

    Nuclear plants are more economical to produce electricity, safe and environment friendly. Cheap production of electricity is one of the main reasons the western industrial nation don’t less developed nations even to have nuclear plant for power-generation or cancer isotope production. The funny part is these so-called ‘guardian of peace in the world’, themselves have stockpiles of nuclear bombs, even have used them against their enemies – but whine that such bombs are not safe in the hands of countries like Pakistan and N. Korea that Israel consider a threat to its existence.

    On august 31, 2015, Jewish ‘The Diplomat’ publish an alarming prediction by Franz Stefan-Gady – claiming that Pakistan would soon have world’s third-largest nuclear arsenal. Which means that Pakistan’s 100 nuclear bombs would jump to more than Israel’s 400 nuclear bombs as Israel has the third largest nuclear WMDs stockpile after the US and Russia.

    On September 26, 2015 – another Zionist idiot but Israel Lobby’s authority on nuclear threat, Daniel R. DePetris claimed at Zionist propaganda outlet ‘The National Interest’ that Pakistan’s nuclear weapon program was world’s fastest-growing, and would be the greatest threat to the world security.

    On august 27, 2015, pro-Israel ‘Washington Post’s’ bureau chief in Pakistan, Tim Craig, repeated his last year’s lies about Pakistan’s nuclear threat to US allies in the region. This time he predicted that within less than ten years – Pakistan’s nuclear arsenal could become the world’s third biggest. I sincerely wish Craig’s Talmudic prophecy come true….

    https://rehmat1.com/2015/08/30/pakistan-to-become-worlds-third-big-nuclear-power/

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