Fukushima Commentary 3...10/3/2012-11/23/2012


Topics include nuclear energy loses political clout, Japan Press promotes distrust, hazards of Cesium-137, Japan’s earthquake phobia with nukes, lack of nuke safety upgrades, no Fukushima melt-throughs, and Peter Bradford speaks with forked tongue.

November 23

Is Nuclear Energy Losing its Political Thunder in Japan?

It seems that the antinuclear politicians in Japan are “circling the wagons” in preparation for next month’s election. Antinuclear politicians in the Japanese congress (Diet) are joining forces to try and make the abolition of nuclear energy the major election issue, but it seems they are fighting a losing battle. The largely antinuclear Japanese Press is doing its best to abet the antinuclear political effort, yet even they are beginning to realize that there are bigger fish to fry before December 16.

The push to make nuclear energy Japan’s political focal point began with the tsunami-induced accident at Fukushima Daiichi on 3/11/11. While the frightening number of deaths and horrific devastation of the tsunami along the Tohoku coast was at the immediate forefront, the Tokyo government used the Fukushima accident as a tool to turn the world’s attention away from the true disaster. Why? It is becoming clearer by the week that the government was embarrassed because Japan’s long-touted tsunami protective measure miserably failed. They were so sure that the existing protective measures would never fail that there was no preparation for recovery if they ever did. Then-PM Naoto Kan and his political cronies had no idea about what they should do about the tsunami’s aftermath so they focused everything on a nuclear accident that was many orders of magnitude less severe than the tsunami itself. They exploited a lingering national anxiety over the nuclear bombings of Hiroshima/Nagasaki and wide-spread ignorance of the true risks of low level radiation exposure to the fullest extent possible. While the nation agonized over phantasmagorical “what-if” scenarios relative to F. Daiichi and fears relative to detectable levels of radioactivity, numerous more-severe earthquake and tsunami-spawned issues were virtually ignored; oil refinery fires and explosions, chemical storage facility destruction causing local toxic contamination of land and sea, and more than 20 million tons of tsunami debris moldering untouched because of the fear that it might be radioactive. As the election approaches, it seems the nation is finally waking up and smelling the noxious aroma of politically-expedient “cover-up”. But, the antinuclear fanatics in Japan’s congress refuse to capitulate and continue to fight their battle undaunted.

The Japanese Diet has roughly 700 members in the upper and lower houses. Just before PM Noda’s recent dissolution of the Diet due to massive political pressure, a small minority of 13 antinuke lawmakers pushed through a last-minute bill to abolish all things nuclear by 2025. One Tokyo lawyer hailed the move, saying, “This really is a citizen-lawmaker-initiated bill.There are no choices but to create a law to abolish the use of nuclear power.” The last-ditch proposal will not be addressed until after the upcoming election, but its unpopularity makes it unlikely to go anywhere.

This week, a small cadre 20 die-hard Diet lawmakers have met to coordinate a cross-party coalition to make the nuclear issue no. 1 in the election. They come from three parties; Democratic Party of Japan (which currently controls the Diet), Social Democratic Party and People’s Life First. The politicians met and were joined by about 60 members of citizens groups campaigning to stop nukes. PLF party president Kenji Yamaoka said that while 70% of the people responding to newspaper polls are against nuclear power, 70% of the Diet favors nukes. He feels the Diet and the public are “worlds apart” on the issue and something needs to be done to end the paradox. He calls for voters to only cast their ballots for candidates who are antinuclear so they will have a controlling majority in the government. Meanwhile, one of the last political cronies of Naoto Kan still holding office, Industry Minister Yukio Edano, adds to the mix by making attacks on the now-popular LDP for possibly challenging the independence of the Nuclear Regulatory Authority (NRA). A leading member of the DPJ, Edano said, "The Nuclear Regulation Authority will make judgments independently from politics. If politicians indicate when to reach a conclusion on resumption, it will contradict the idea of ensuring the body's independence." He added that the LDP is contradicting itself because it was their idea to make the NRA independent in the first place, "Not explaining and not setting any goals — I can only think that they are running away (from the issue)."

While the Japanese Press remains generally antinuclear, the F. Daiichi accident has been diminishing in its news media presence over the past months. Kyodo News Service might be a good example of what is happening. Last Spring, Fukushima was listed as its top on-going issue. Since then, national defense and the dispute with China over the uninhabited Senkaku Islands have taken the lead. An increasing number of articles on the still-lingering tsunami debris issue (more than 15 million tons remain untouched), the crumbling national economy and impending tax increases have pushed Fukushima way down the list. Even the strongly antinuclear Asahi sees the writing on the wall. A most informative image of the lessening of Fukushima’s political usefulness is a picture posted in the Asahi Shimbun on Thursday of former-PM Naoto Kan standing on a draped box, in Tokyo, speaking into a microphone and politicking the antinuclear agenda – only there’s no-one listening! Pathetic, to say the least. Kan has been ostracized by his party, the DPJ, and has been reduced to little more than a street-corner prophet.

Of the five major newspapers, only the Mainichi Shimbun continues to promote the antinuclear issue as an election center-piece. In today’s lead editorial, the Mainichi says a “concrete vision” for Japan’s energy future is the most critical issue in the upcoming election. The Mainichi stoops lower than a snake’s belly to support their claim by using exaggeration and passé rhetoric. The worst exaggeration is, “Even now, 20 months after the outbreak of the disaster at the Fukushima No. 1 nuclear plant operated by Tokyo Electric Power Co. (TEPCO), at least 160,000 people are living as evacuees.” The number of politically-mandated F. Daiichi evacuees is more like 60,000: there are 160,000 tsunami-caused evacuees who cannot return home. As for worn-out rhetoric, “Workers at the site continue their efforts to bring the crisis under control, with no end in sight. Decontamination of areas tainted by radiation is far from completion, and low-level radiation exposure among residents is a constant concern.” However, the accident has been long-under control, decontamination of the surrounding areas is moving forward, and low-level radiation exposure is only a concern of a radiophobic minority who are politically active.

For more than a year Japan’s voluntary, non-scientific newspaper polls and their antinuclear indications have dominated the headlines. Polls of this nature attract only those most-inspired to respond, and Japan’s fully-charged antinuclear demographic has dominated. Whether or not these polls have merit will be demonstrated in the December 16th election. It now seems that most of the Japanese Press has finally gotten a message that the public might not be fanatically antinuclear, after all. Nuclear energy is definitely a significant political issue in Japan, but it is not the single-most important one. It’s maybe third or fourth on the list. The die-hards in the Diet need to wake up, too, or they could be out of their $269,000-per-year jobs come December 16, and join Naoto Kan on his lonely Tokyo street corner.

November 16

Japanese Press Promotes Wide-spread Distrust

Soon after the earthquake/tsunami catastrophe of 3/11/11, Fukushima Daiichi took center stage with the Japanese Press and Tokyo government. In the weeks that followed, it became apparent that a considerable amount of Fukushima accident information was being withheld and/or spin-doctored by the government and the Tokyo Electric Power Company (Tepco). Since then, widespread distrust has been directed toward both entities, and there is no end in sight. Yet, the record shows that Tepco might not have been as culpable as the Press makes it seem. Not that Tepco has a perfect track record, but it appears that the Press refuses to give them credit for learning from the past and bringing themselves to a level of acceptable informational transparency. In addition, it seems Tokyo has learned from their mistakes and has shown improvement too, although not nearly to the degree demonstrated by Tepco. Why does the Press in Japan continue to promote unrestricted cynicism and conveniently ignore what seems to be quite obvious?

We might trace the roots of the problem to the first 24 hours of the Fukushima Daiichi accident. Then-Prime Minister Naoto Kan became dissatisfied with Tepco’s handling of the escalating complications at F. Daiichi and tried to take matters into his own hands. Additionally, Kan was irritated with the public information coming out of Tepco, so he ordered the utility to pass all information through his staff before releasing it to the Press. After a few weeks, it became obvious that the information being presented in no way conformed to the concept of transparency. This is when the Japanese Press began turning on Tepco and the government. Distrust grew far and wide. By the time Kan was forced to resign, distrust of Tepco and Tokyo had become endemic.

What I find interesting, and only seems to have been reported by my op-ed pieces, is that since Kan resigned the information coming out of Tepco has been quite trust-worthy. This strongly indicates that the prime source of the non-transparency issue lay with Kan and his staff of cow-towing political cronies. Subsequent PM Noda tried to clean up the government’s tainted Fukushima-informational image; literally no progress has been made. After months of tainted information flow, the damage had been done. Literally no-one trusted anything coming out of Tepco or the government. Unfortunately, an on-going state of suspicion and doubt continues to exist with respect to the “official” F. Daiichi reports posted to the Japanese Press at-large. For example, on Wednesday a distrust-laden statement by one of Japan’s antinuclear voices was given full news media audience by the Japan Times. Concerning the issue of F. Daiichi worker’s radiation exposure, Masako Sawai of Citizens' Nuclear Information Center said "In Japan, nobody exactly knows workers' conditions at nuclear facilities. Even after the Fukushima crisis started, there have been moves to conceal exposure.” No balancing statement by Tepco or the government was presented. When the Press fails to bend over backwards to find an opposing viewpoint concerning any popular issue…take it seriously. Take it very seriously.

Hardly a day goes by without at least one major newspaper running an article about Fukushima where distrust of Tepco and/or the Tokyo government is mentioned. In every case, no “balancing” point of view is cited…not even in reports posted by the precious few news outlets that seem to be the most objective in handling the nuclear issue, like the Yomiuri Shimbun. The Press’ promotion of distrust seems universal. What’s going on here?

For one thing, on October 3rd the Asahi Shimbun posted a survey of the 46 major newspapers in Japan concerning Fukushima accident. 28 of the papers, or 61%, had run numerous editorials calling for the complete abolition of nuclear power in Japan and 14 (30%) endorsed a gradual withdrawal from reliance on nukes. Thus we can see that 91% of Japan’s Press has taken an antinuclear position. Polls also show that as much as 70% of the public wants nukes either abolished or gradually phased out of the picture, as well. There’s no denying the Press caters to public opinion – it’s the foundation of the news media’s business. Combine widespread antinuclear opinion in the public with a Press that proclaims it doesn’t want nuclear power any more, exacerbated by immense distrust spawned by the Kan regime, and we can see why the Press is tacitly promoting on-going cynicism toward everything currently reported by Tepco and Tokyo relative to Fukushima, nuclear energy and radiation exposure.

While the level of nuclear transparency out of the Prime Minister’s office and the Diet have improved considerably since Kan stepped down, it would be misleading to say they have gotten the message in total. Better doesn’t mean it has become laudable…but it is better. On the other hand, the degree of transparency currently being demonstrated by Tepco is several orders of magnitude better then when Kan was literally sitting on top of them. Like I said earlier… since Kan stepped down the information coming out of Tepco has been quite trust-worthy. Is it perfect?

Perfection is a matter of opinion, the definition of which varies from person to person…group to group…newspaper to newspaper. Universally-accepted perfection is a pipe-dream. I don’t agree with everything Tepco has put out since Kan left office, but I disagree with very little of it. The best we can rationally demand from Tepco is doing the best thing possible. Over the past 15 months, Tepco has demonstrated a level of transparency that apparently out-strips any and all other businesses and industries in Japan. They learned from the horrid track-record compiled during Kan’s reign. Has Tepco achieved full, unquestionable transparency? It’s certainly light-year’s better than when Kan held the informational reins. By taking everything into consideration, Tepco deserves to be lauded for what they have done. It’s time for the Japanese Press to wake up and smell the roses. Continuing to promote unmitigated distrust towards Tepco is a disservice to the people of Japan. Until the news media steps up to the plate and gives credit where credit is due, the public of Japan will languish in the abyss of irresolvable cynicism…a condition in which everyone loses and no-one wins.

November 9

How Hazardous is Cs-137? – Part II

In last week’s op-ed piece (November 2), the chemical and biological hazard of Cesium, isotope 137 (Cs-137) was summarized. This week, we will look at how Cs-137 has been used to speculate on risk relative to the spent fuel pools at Fukushima Daiichi.

Cs-137 is a by-product of the fission process that occurs inside nuclear power plant fuel cores. There are actually 47 radioactive elements formed when the Uranium-235 in the fuel is fissioned, and literally hundreds of isotopes of those elements. A nuclear weapon’s detonation also produces the same types of radioactive isotopes, plus hundreds of others not found in reactors. This is because of the intense, concentrated, high energy neutron field inherent to the detonation itself. Reactor fission products range from Zinc to Dysprosium on the Periodic Chart of the Elements. On the other hand, the bomb’s isotopic matrix is much, much wider with as many as 71 elements (and many hundreds of their isotopes), from Sodium and Lead on the Periodic Table. Not all of the bomb fallout isotopes come from fission. Neutrons are the only form of radiation that can make other surrounding materials radioactive. The soils, buildings, and other materials pulverized by a bomb’s explosion are instantly caught in the neutron field caused by the detonation, making radioactive isotopes out of those that were not radioactive before the blast. Some of the prominent bomb-fallout isotopes are Sodium-24, Chromium-51, Manganese-54, Iron-59, Cobalt-60, Copper-64, Antimony-122 and 124, Tantalum-180 and 182, and Lead-203.(1) The half-lives vary from as low as 8 hours (Ta-180) and as long as 5.3 years (Co-60). Just for the record, a small amount of Carbon-14 is formed by the bomb, but its quantity is miniscule compared to those just listed. Regardless, none of the bomb-fallout isotopes listed above is produced by power plant reactors.

Both reactors and bombs produce the popularly-mentioned isotopes Iodine-131, Cs-137, and Strontium-90. I-131 has a half-life of 8.1 days, Cs-137 at 30.1 years, and Sr-90 at 29 years. The length of an isotopes half-life indicates how long it will last, in ever-descending activity level, if we multiply by ten. While the amount of Cs-137 spawned by a bomb is relatively minute, the amount made in a reactor over a period of years is much greater. The documented fatalities caused by bomb fallout were due to the entire spectrum of isotopes produced, but to say that they all died by Cs-137 exposure is a gross exaggeration.

Case in point – the Daigo Fukurayu Maru in 1954. The Maru was a Japanese fishing ship located about 130 kilometers downwind from America’s largest-ever atmospheric nuclear weapon’s test, code-named Bravo, rated at 15 million tons of TNT – roughly 1,000 times more powerful than the bomb dropped on Hiroshima. The 40,000 ft.-high cloud was visible to the Maru and the sound of the blast quite loud. The Maru pulled in their fishing equipment and tried to sail away. Unfortunately, they sailed into the path of the bomb fallout. Dust, soot and even larger particles rained down on the Maru and her 23-man crew. The crew received high internal and external radiation exposure, estimated at 3 sieverts each. All experienced nausea and those on deck received superficial skin burns from the Beta particles pouring out of the fallout around them. One crew member died some six months later due to acute hepatitis. All others recovered from their symptoms. Seventeen remain alive today. Regardless, the crew’s radiation exposure was due to the entire range of radioactive isotopes they were subjected to. No reputable research attributes the crew’s illnesses to Cs-137 alone (2,3)

Let’s also look at the data relative to fallout from the bombings of Hiroshima and Nagasaki in 1945. It is estimated that some 201,000 people died as a result of Hiroshima/Nagasaki; 130,000 killed by the two explosions themselves, 70,000 due to radiation exposures caused by the enormous, rapid neutron and gamma exposures radiated by the two bursts, and about 1,000 due to latent effects resulting from internal and external fallout exposure by 1951.(4.5.6) The fallout-caused deaths are believed to have been the result of contact with and ingestion of the full spectrum of fallout isotopes, only a tiny fraction of which was Cs-137. In other words, those who succumbed to Hiroshima/Nagasaki fallout exposure did not die of Cs-137 exposure alone: in fact, the tiny fraction of Cs-137 in the fallout probably wouldn’t have killed anyone...the amount produced was just too small.

These unequivocal facts have not deterred hardened nuclear energy critics from making it seem as if Cs-137 was the sole culprit of all weapon’s-fallout-related and Chernobyl accident mortality. They do this to make Cs-137 exposure seem unfathomably hazardous, and use their deceptive rhetoric to predict apocalyptic consequences. At the forefront is American Arnie Gundersen, a maverick former nuclear engineer. Gundersen evokes fearful visions of Fukushima-based, nuclear-weapons-level holocaust when he says, “There’s more cesium in that [Unit 4] fuel pool than in all 800 nuclear bombs exploded above ground…But of course it would happen all at once. It would certainly destroy Japan as a functioning country. Move south of the equator if that ever happened, I think that’s probably the lesson there.”(8) It should be added that another noteworthy American, Robert Alvarez, makes a similar exaggerationwhen he compares Chernobyl and his wildly-speculative assumptions about spent fuel pool accidents. He writes that there is 85 times more Cesium in the spent fuel stored at F. Daiichi than was released by Chernobyl, therefore “It [all Cs-137 being released] would destroy the world environment and our civilization.”(7)

It would be of little consequence if doom-sayers like Gundersen and Alvarez were merely preaching to the world’s antinuclear choir, but their predictions of a Cs-137-caused apocalypse due to the spent fuel pools at Fukushima Daiichi have received wide news media coverage in Japan. And, their severely disingenuous speculations have received virtually no rebuttal in the Japanese Press. Are they “telling it like it is”, or are they successfully selling fear-inducing snake oil to millions of Japanese who have no idea what the risks of Cs-137 really are? You decide!

References:

  1. Howard A. Hawthorne, Editor (May 1979); Operation Redwing- Project 2.63- Characterization of Fallout (extracted version); Sandia Base, Albuquerque, New Mexico; March 15, 1961. http://web.archive.org/web/20080410131321/http://worf.eh.doe.gov/data/ihp1d/1362e.pdf.
  2. Henriksen, Thormond; Radiation and Health; University of Oslo. 2009 (updated 2012) http://www.mn.uio.no/fysikk/tjenester/kunnskap/straling/radiation-health-2012.pdf
  3. Titus, A. Costanina; Bombs in the Backyard: Atomic Testing and American Politics; University of Nevada Press, Reno, Nevada. !986 ppg. 46-51 http://books.google.com/books?id=eQfG-U5iAPYC&pg=PA49&dq=%22fukuryu+maru%22+strauss&lr=&num=50&as_brr=3&cd=11#v=onepage&q=%22fukuryu%20maru%22%20strauss&f=false
  4. The Atomic Bombings of Hiroshima and Nagasaki : Chapter 10 - Total Casualties; The Avalon Project; Yale Law School. http://avalon.law.yale.edu/20th_century/mp10.asp
  5. Johnston, Wm. Robert; Hiroshima Atomic Bombing, 1945; Database of radiological incidents and related events – Johnston Archives; October 16, 2005. http://www.johnstonsarchive.net/nuclear/radevents/1945JAP1.html
  6. Johnston, Wm. Robert; Nagasaki Atomic Bombing, 1945; Database of radiological incidents and related events – Johnston Archives; October 16, 2005. http://www.johnstonsarchive.net/nuclear/radevents/1945JAP2.html
  7. Peterson, Per F.; Nuclear Expert: Fukushima spent fuel has 85 times more cesium than released at Chernobyl — “It would destroy the world environment and our civilization… an issue of human survival” -Former UN adviser; University of California, Berkeley; April 5, 2012. http://www.nuc.berkeley.edu/forum/218/nuclear-expert-fukushima-spent-fuel-has-85-times-more-cesium-released-chernobyl-%E2%80%94-%E2%80%9Cit-woul
  8. Fukushima fuel pool is urgent national security issue for America, ‘top threat facing humanity’; Kurzweil News; May 7, 2012. http://www.kurzweilai.net/fukushima-fuel-pool-is-urgent-national-security-issue-for-america-top-threat-facing-humanity

November 2

How Hazardous is Cesium-137?

A recent issue-revival of the radioactive water build-up at Fukushima Daiichi has brought fear of radioactive Cesium back to the forefront of the Japanese Press. The most recent analysis of the decontaminated waters at F. Daiichi reveals a Cesium concentration of 2.4 Becquerels per cubic centimeter. This is about the same radioactive level found in health spas all over the world (~3 Bq/cc, average). Health spas contain the radioactive “daughters” of naturally-occurring Radium, Thorium and Uranium: the decontaminated waters in storage at F. Daiichi contain radioactive Cesium - specifically the longest-lasting of its isotopes, Cesium-137 (Cs-137). While the radioactive concentrations in spa waters cause no concern and are touted by health-enthusiasts as being good for you, similar radioactive levels of Cs-137 result in widespread fears. Just how hazardous is Cs-137?

Cesium is often assumed to be a “bone-seeker” which will keep it in the skeleton for long periods of time, continually irradiating and eventually causing bone cancer. However, there is no evidence to support the “bone-seeker” notion relative to Cesium itself. In most cases, the bone-seeking notion comes from the misconception that Cesium is chemically similar to Calcium, which is the major element in our bones. This is simply not true. A quick look at chemistry’s Periodic Chart of the Elements shows it is not in group II, like Calcium, but is actually located in group I with Sodium. We also find Potassium in the same chemical group with Sodium and Cesium. All three are all chemically similar, but not akin to group II elements. Group II elements, like Calcium, have chemical (and biological) properties critically different from group I elements.

At this point, it should be mentioned that one of the radioactive elements found in reactor fission products is Strontium (Sr-90). Strontium is in the same chemical group II as Calcium, with similar bio-chemical properties. Thus, Sr-90 can honestly be called a “bone seeker”. However, the levels of Sr-90 around F. Daiichi are barely detectable and pose no real risk to anyone, even if it were ingested.

Back to the topic at hand…our bodies cannot store Sodium and Potassium, which is why we must continually keep replenishing these necessary nutritional minerals through the foods we eat. All group I elements have what’s called a “biological half-life”, which is used to estimate how long they will stay in our systems before being removed with body wastes. For Potassium, the half-life is about thirty days. That means half of the Potassium we ingest today will be gone in a month. Half of the remainder (or 25% of the originally-ingested) will be purged after two months…and so on. The rule-of-thumb is that after 10 half-lives (300 days, in the case of Potassium), it will essentially be gone from the body.

The biological processing of Cs-137 through our systems is similar to what happens with K-40, but with a biological half-life of about 100 days. It is totally purged about 2.5 years after ingestion if one does nothing at all. The biological half-life can be accelerated through medication (Prussian Blue) and reduced to 30 days, just like Potassium. In other words, the comparison between Cs-137 and K-40 is bio-chemically strong…not identical, but strong.

However, some people might say that Potassium isn’t as radioactive as Cesium, so there’s no realistic comparison to be made. This is another misconception. Potassium that we ingest necessarily contains isotope 40 (K-40) which is naturally radioactive. It doesn’t come from nuclear power plants: it is not a fission by-product. It comes from primordial supernovas billions of years ago. Its half-life is a little over a billion years, which means it’s been here a long time and not going away any time soon. But, how much radioactivity does it actually produce since it’s only about .01% of all the Potassium found in nature? Well, there’s a LOT of Potassium in the world…one of the most abundant non-gaseous elements on the Earth’s surface, in fact. It’s found everywhere in the soils of the world and is thereby contained in many of the foods we eat; broccoli, peas, beans, potatoes, some fruit (like bananas), and nuts, just to name a few. It’s safe to say that we all ingest some K-40 every day, have ingested it since birth, and will continue to do so for the rest of our lives. How radioactive does K-40 make the soil? A kilogram of dirt typically contains ~10 Becquerels per kilogram. Because we are constantly ingesting K-40 in our food, it is an ever-present radioactive constituent inside everyone’s bodies. How radioactive? At any given moment there are about 3,400 Becquerels of K-40 inside each person on our planet. In comparison, each of us is about as radioactive as 1.5 liters of the decontaminated water stored at F. Daiichi.

At this point, some might object that K-40 and Cs-137 produce different kinds of radiation. That’s partially true. To begin, both emit Beta radiation. A Beta is a high-speed electron. When it comes in contact with anything (even air) the Beta almost immediately gets absorbed into the outer electron shell of another atom, ionizing the new atom. Betas cannot penetrate…they are totally absorbed by a thin piece of tissue paper. It happens that fast. Your outer layers of skin (which are dead) are a perfect Beta radiation shield. If Betas are released inside living tissue, the ionization occurs in the tissue-itself and can cause localized harm. The energy level of the Cs-137 Beta is 1.17 MeV, while the Beta from K-40 is a bit higher at 1.31 MeV. In other words, their Betas are essentially equal energy-wise.

One difference between the two is that K-40 also emits a Gamma ray of 1.46 MeV about 11% of the time: Cs-137 only emits Beta. Does this mean K-40 is more hazardous than Cs-137? No. Here’s why…a Beta particle comes from the nucleus of the atom. A neutron in the nucleus suddenly becomes unstable, expunges a high energy electron (Beta) and turns into a proton. When this happens to a Cs-137 nucleus, it is no longer Cesium. It instantly becomes Barium-137. Ba-137 is about 12% of all the naturally-occurring Barium found on our planet, and it is not radioactive…unless it has been freshly formed by Cs-137 Beta decay…then it is radioactive. It releases a Gamma ray at an energy level of 0.7 MeV. It has a radioactive half-life of 2.6 minutes, so it will be gone in no more than 26 minutes after it is formed. It doesn’t stick around very long. Barium is a group II element…chemically similar to Calcium. Thus, it can be called a “bone-seeker”, per se. However, it usually takes longer than 26 minutes for radioactive Ba-137 spawned by Cs-137 to “find” some bone in our systems. Bodily-retained Cesium tends to concentrate in muscle tissue, which is why it has a longer biological half-life than Potassium. Thus, the Ba-137 is primarily released into muscle and not bone. Although biologically lodged in muscle when it is transmuted from Cs-137, there is a small but finite probability that some of the Cesium-spawned radioactive Ba-137 will find bone to irradiate. If this happens, bone exposure will occur for a very short time due to Ba-137’s very short half-life.

Because of the Cesium-Barium connection and Cesium’s longer biological half-life than Potassium, the bodily-retained limit for Cesium-137 is many times lower than the recommended (but not regulated) bodily-retained limit for K-40. We would have to continually eat a LOT of Potassium-rich food to reach the recommended K-40 limit…more than 10 bananas or roughly one 5lb. bag of potatoes every day. By the same token, we would have to eat at least 100 grams of Fukushima Prefecture-level, Cs-137 contaminated food every day to reach its regulatory limit in Japan, which is 10 times lower than the rest of the world.

Taking all of the above into consideration, two questions should be posed. First, are the stored decontaminated waters at F. Daiichi really “highly radioactive”, as is always stated in the news media reports? Second, is Cs-137 as hazardous as the Press and hard-core nuclear critics make it out to be?

References:

  1. Situation of storage and treatment of accumulating water including highly concentrated radioactive materials at Fukushima Daiichi Nuclear Power Station; Tepco News; October 31, 2012; http://www.tepco.co.jp/en/press/corp-com/release/2012/10/index-e.html
  2. Potassium; Argonne National Laboratory; http://www.ead.anl.gov/pub/doc/potassium.pdf
  3. Cesium; Argonne National Laboratory; http://www.evs.anl.gov/pub/doc/cesium.pdf
  4. General Information about K-40; Oak Ridge Associated Universities; January, 2009; http://www.orau.org/ptp/collection/consumer%20products/potassiumgeneralinfo.htm
  5. Periodic Chart of the Elements; Web Elements; http://www.webelements.com/
  6. Interactive Chart of the Nuclides; National Nuclear Data Center; Brookhaven National Laboratory; http://www.nndc.bnl.gov/chart/reCenter.jsp?z=19&n=21

October 24

Earthquake phobia threatens Japan’s electrical infrastructure

Ninety-six percent of Japan’s nuclear power fleet is idled, and has been for more than a year. Much of the resulting electricity shortfall has been recovered by pulling old, unreliable “thermal” (mostly liquid natural gas-fueled) power plants out of mothballs. This past summer Japan’s operating fossil-fueled plants were run constantly: many of which were long over-due for maintenance and refurbishment. A few of them experienced mechanical failure, bringing Japan’s electrical infrastructure precariously close to its limit. Had but two or three more large units failed at the peak of the summer’s heat, localized rolling blackouts would have happened. The politically-thinned electrical supply caused by the nuclear moratorium has many of Japan’s major businesses seriously considering emigration to foreign lands where a stable energy supply exists. One utility, Hokkaido Electric Company, has already projected an energy shortfall of 10% this coming winter. The majority of the currently-idled nukes are ready to produce the electricity which would alleviate the current crisis. The energy supply situation in Japan is critical, but it seems the majority of the country’s news outlets and politicians don’t really care. They would rather dwell on fear concerning exaggerated assumptions of earthquake impacts on operating nukes.

Japan may well be the most earthquake-prone country on our planet. The northeast coast of its main island (Honshu) is located roughly 100 kilometers from one of the most active tectonic subduction zones in the world. The people of Japan live with earthquakes occurring one or more times a week. Their buildings are mostly built with earthquakes in mind – it only makes sense. However, the structures constructed to best survive earthquakes are nuclear power plants…without a doubt. But if you read Japanese newspapers, hardly a day goes by without a major posting of earthquakes and their impending threats to nuclear power stations. Populist politicians use this to pressure the new nuclear regulators to investigate earthquake fears above all else. Doubt-generated fear of another Fukushima spawned by another one-in-a-millennium earthquake has kept Japan’s nukes idled and placed Japan’s energy infrastructure in crisis.

The problem is actually the result of a naïve, albeit complicated assumption. All empirical evidence concerning the Fukushima accident shows that the massive earthquake of 3/11/11 did not damage any of the Tohoku coast’s reactors or their safety systems. The nuke power station closest to the earthquake epicenter and experiencing the most severe ground movement, Onagawa, suffered no damage at all. All control room instruments at F. Daiichi showed that everything was working precisely as designed during the 40 minutes between the quake occurring and the tsunami swamping the power station. The tsunami caused the full electrical blackout. The blackout caused the three meltdowns. The evidence makes it all seem obvious, but uncertainty and doubt fomented by one of Japan’s five nuclear accident investigative committees has taken precedence over facts.

The problematic assumption was created by the Diet’s Nuclear Accident Independent Investigative Committee (NAIIC) report of July, 2012. In it, the NAIIC (which had no-one with any nuclear engineering or operational experience) said they felt there may have been some earthquake damage to F. Daiichi unit #1, causing a Loss of Coolant Accident (LOCA) condition before the tsunami engulfed the site. Their reasons behind this speculation are disturbing. To begin, unit #1 SCRAMed (auto-shutdown) before the quake ground movements reached their peak. Thus, NAIIC says it may have been due to the plant’s electronic detection system sensing a leak strong enough for a SCRAM. Actually, the plant was designed to SCRAM with ground movement more than 10 times below the 3/11/11 peak. No wonder it SCRAMed before the full intensity of the quake was felt! Anyone with nuclear engineering or operational experience would have known this, but no such expertise existed on the NAIIC panel.

Next - some workers say they saw a leak from piping in the unit #1 reactor building just after the earthquake. NAIIC says they cannot rule out the possibility that it came from piping associated with an emergency cooling system (the Isolation Condensers) at such a low rate that there would be no indication of it in the control room.

Further – NAIIC says there was no operator report of hearing the Reactor Vessel’s safety relief valves (SRV) operating. (Yes…when they slam shut, they make a terrifically loud noise) The operators at units #2 & 3 reported hearing their SRVs cycling, but not unit #1 control room staff. NAIIC says they do not believe the SRVs ever opened to keep the reactor vessel from over-pressurizing. Now, here’s the critical assumption – because of their three stated reasons (above), it should be assumed that a LOCA may have occurred before the tsunami hit which was caused by the earthquake itself. In the process, NAIIC opened the door for Japan’s Press to speculate that the earthquake, and not the tsunami, caused the meltdown at F. Daiichi unit #1.

There are serious problems with the NAIIC’s rationale, beyond their naivety concerning earthquake-induced SCRAMs. First…where was the alleged pre-tsunami leak coming from? As it turns out, a major piece of equipment not built to nuclear safety standards sits adjacent to the Isolation Condensers – the building’s air conditioning unit. Chilled fresh water flows into the air cooler through standard industrial piping which is not subject to the same earthquake resistance requirements as a nuclear safety system. It would make sense to at least mention that the observed leak likely came from the air conditioning unit’s piping, but this is nowhere to be found in the NAIIC’s executive summary or recently-released English version of their full report. Clearly, the group decided to point a guilty finger at the one piece of technology in that 4th floor room that was the least-likely source of the leak, and ignore all other more reasonable possibilities. Drawing a conclusion based on an assumption created in isolation from all other possibilities, simply because it is not possible to prove or disprove it at this point in time, is illogical at best. Not considering the potential for the negative ramifications of the ill-conceived conclusion is seriously short-sighted.

But the second aspect of the quake-caused LOCA assumption defies adequate verbal description. NAIIC says that possibly stuck-shut SRVs contributed to (or maybe caused) a LOCA. That’s the same as assuming that paperwork was blown all over the room because all the doors and windows were shut! The stuck-shut SRV portion of the NAIIC’s “the quake did it” assumption is utterly preposterous - ridiculous…ludicrous…absurd! What on earth were they thinking? Did anyone on the NAIIC panel have inkling as to how absurd this would make them sound?

Ever since the NAIIC report was released, the majority of the Japanese Press has been exploiting nuclear earthquake phobia to the maximum. Every speculation that a geologic anomaly near (or actually under) a nuclear power station might be seismic produces a myriad of headlines and political exigency concerning the possibility of another Fukushima. The articles in the Press, even the precious few newspapers treating the issue rationally, make it sound like any and all faults will cause another Fukushima accident…and it could happen tomorrow! These assumptions are directed towards the structures and systems best-built to withstand, and (due to the Great East Japan earthquake of 3/11/11) now proven to be fully capable of surviving, any and all possible Japanese earthquakes, are the ones under the microscope of doubt and uncertainty. It doesn’t matter that Japan’s economy is seriously circling the drain and that restarting nukes will significantly slow the decline. All that matters is boosting nuclear fears over earthquakes…fears exacerbated by the NAIIC’s obvious desire to keep earthquake-did-it rumors alive. Fears propagated by a group of lawyers, “policy experts”, bureaucrats, and two scientists with no nuclear background.

Nuclear fear, uncertainty and doubt runs rampant in the Japanese Press…it’s good for business. Populist politicians exploit the panderings of the Press because they believe it will garner votes. Will the Japanese people ever be made aware of what’s really the case? And, if they are made aware, when will they say “Enough!!” and demand rational recovery from the very real tsunami-spawned, politically-exacerbated economic disaster ravaging Japan?

October 22

Japan’s historical lack of safety upgrades amplifies

The French Nuclear construction company Areva has announced a contract to back-fit Japan’s Pressurized Water Reactors (PWR) with hydrogen recombiners. The devices use passive catalytic oxidation to convert free hydrogen into water vapor inside the domed containment buildings for PWRs. Areva says the technology will prevent hydrogen explosions and “preserve the integrity of the reactor”. The recombiners will be installed at the Ikata, Mihama, Oi, Sendai, Takahama, Tsuruga, Tomari and Genkai nuclear power stations having PWRs. Of Japan’s fifty nuclear power reactors, 23 are PWRs.

The Passive Autocatalytic Recombiner (PAR) is a state-of-the-art device that combines hydrogen emitted from damaged nuclear fuel bundles with atmospheric oxygen, producing water vapor. They do not need operator action or electricity to work. Thus, they are immune to full-station blackouts like the one that struck Fukushima Daiichi. In addition, once installed they have little or no operating or maintenance cost. Areva’s Philippe Samama says, “PARs represent a major step forward in nuclear plant safety, and AREVA is proud to be driving this progress with its Safety Alliance Program.”

140 international PWRs have been equipped with the PARs since the 1979 Three Mile Island accident. In addition, hydrogen recombiners have been installed throughout the United States after TMI for all domed containments surrounding both PWRs and Boiling Water Reactors (BWR). In addition, hydrogen “igniters” have been placed above the passive water volumes inside American containments to further mitigate hydrogen build-up. But, none of this happened in Japan.

Why? It seems we have yet another example of a Japanese financial conflict of interest and a ruthless persistence to ignore the potential for the rare-but-not-impossible nuclear accident. Since 3/11/11, knowledge of Japan’s decision to not upgrade emergency power supply systems to meet international reliability and safety standards has become well-understood. The lack of such safety improvements is (in this writer’s opinion) the single-most important technological cause for the accident at Fukushima Daiichi. Had the IAEA-recommended emergency power supply improvements been made at F. Daiichi during the years before 3/11/11, it is doubtful that the meltdowns and hydrogen explosions would have happened at all. Now we find that at least one additional international nuclear safety standard was ignored, and in all probability in the interest of monetary profit for the Japanese utility companies.

I’m sure that Japan will say they could not justify the cost of PAR installation relative to their view relative to likely benefits, which is just what they have said about their reason behind not waterproofing emergency power supplies for their nukes well-before the 3/11/11 tsunami. It makes this writer wonder what other safety compromises the Japanese have made over the past four decades, and further wonder if the new Nuclear Regulatory Authority will have the courage to do the right thing and make Japan meet all international nuclear safety standards.

October 17

No “Melt-throughs” at Fukushima Daiichi? – a Detailed Explanation

I have received a few objections concerning the possibility that there have been no “melt-through” events with any of the reactor pressure vessels (RPV) at Fukushima Daiichi. The objections are based on my challenging Tepco’s official “party-line” on the issue. Tepco says that the melted fuel for unit #1 burned its way through the reactor’s bottom head and collected on the floor beneath and that the water discovered in the basement of the unit #1 PCV is keeping it cool enough to prevent the release of large amounts of radioactivity. However, their most recent chemical and radiation level study on unit #1 PCV does not support their position of RPV melt-through. My Friday commentary was literally “dashed off” in summary form in order to meet my self-imposed deadline for posting updates. Because of the subsequent objections, I feel it is important to provide a more detailed explication of my claim.

The water being decontaminated at F. Daiichi is coming from the turbine building basements. Some of the basement waters are transferred to waste treatment building before being run through the de-con system, and the rest directly through. After decontamination, the drinking-water-quality liquid is used to cool the decay heat-generating melted fuel in units #1 through 3. There's no certainty as to where the water is going once it leaves the cooling-water pumps and enters the reactor containment. There's little doubt that most is running through the RPVs because temperatures fluctuate with flow changes, but where it is going there-after has been a matter of debate for the last year-and-a half. The “official” RPV-to-PCV-to-reactor building basements-to-turbine basements flow-path assumption has considerable technical challenges.

The reactor building-to-turbine building part of the assumption at the end of the proposed flow-path seems reasonable, although no-one knows the precise point of influx into the T-Basements. However, the robust construction of RPVs makes the RPV-to-PCV portion of the flow scenario questionable. I personally witnessed the installation of a BWR RPV in the early 80s (1982, if memory serves). Because of this, I find the possibility of an integrity compromise through the massive bottom head questionable, and have since the issue was raised. The weakest points with respect to the bottom head’s construction are at the stand-pipes for the Control Rod Drive (CRDM) penetrations. These stand-pipes are integral to the 8-9 inch thick bottom head. It is possible that there may have been some "drip-through" of molten corium through the CRDM hydraulic connections to the bottom head's installed stand-pipes, but this would not constitute the postulated full "melt through" proposed by Tepco.

Tepco's recent inspections inside the unit #1 PCV indicate a high degree of physical integrity with respect to the PCV's thick steel-reinforced concrete outer wall and steel liner. Thus, the postulated PCV-to-reactor building portion of the flow path must now be questioned. It might be the case that the water inside the PCV is stagnant, and has been there since seawater was introduced as a coolant to the RPV. Once the seawater impacted the molten mass inside the RPV (corium), it would have rapidly solidified (crusted) the corium and sealed the "drip-throughs". Relatively little of the seawater itself would have leaked through the CRDM connections to the RPV stand-pipes before the corium solidified and sealed the leaks. This would account for why the inner-PCV basement waters are 10 times lower in chloride content than the waters outside the PCV walls.

Further, if the PCV basement water were in direct contact with a solidified corium mass, the radioactive content would be greater than analyzed. Corium is not “just” melted Uranium fuel. It also contains the materials from the fuel bundles inside all nuclear fuel cores, as well as the metals from the core support structures; an admixture of Uranium, Zirconium, steel, and control rod materials, if you will. Uranium is one of the densest materials found on earth. Even so, undamaged fuel pellets leach some fission products out of them: mostly inert gasses such as Xenon and Krypton, plus a few other radioactive elements (like Cesium) that are formed a few millimeters from the outer surface of the pellets. The Corium is less dense than Uranium and its leach rate of fission products should be higher than from undamaged uranium pellets. In other words, if the water in the PCV basement is actually covering the re-solidified mass of corium, the radioactive material concentration should be considerably higher than with the waters outside the PCV due to on-going fission product replenishment. It’s now known to be the other way around, which does not seem possible if there was a melt-through. While a cooled mass of corium will certainly leach fission products at a lower rate than hot corium, it will not eliminate it. Since it seems unlikely that the water being pumped into the RPV is finding its way into the PCV basement, and further since it seems unlikely that the basement water is finding its way out of the PCV and into the outer reactor building, the contamination level in the inner PCV water should be much, much higher than Tepco’s analysis shows…if the corium mass is actually there.

In addition, a related, albeit compelling bit of evidence further demonstrates that the vast majority (if not all) of the solidified corium from the unit #1 meltdown remains in the bottom head of the RPV - the radiation levels detected inside the PCV. At the surface of the basement’s water, the radiation field is 0.5 sieverts per hour. If the corium were in-fact beneath the water, the radiation level should have dropped as the detector was moved higher above the water’s surface. However, the opposite was the case! As the detector was moved up, the radiation field increased and peaked at more than 11 sieverts at the point of detector entry, about 8.6 meters above the basement floor. This would be at or near the same elevation as the bottom head of the RPV. This fact alone, independent of the water analysis, virtually verifies the claim that the corium is not under the water, but rather safely contained inside the RPV’s bottom head.

Thus, it seems there has been no catastrophic “melt-through” of the unit #1 RPV at Fukushima Daiichi. This, combined with my prior arguments of no melt-throughs for either unit #2 or #3, leads me to conclude that there have been no melt-throughs with any of the RPVs at Fukushima Daiichi.

October 12

No “Melt-throughs” at Fukushima Daiichi?

Today, Tepco has posted the results of the first water sample taken inside the unit #1 Primary Containment Vessel (PCV). We find results that come as more than a bit of a surprise. The interior water’s results have been compared to analyses of the water’s outside the PCV, in the basement of the unit #1 reactor building, taken in late September. First, the Cesium contamination level inside the PCV is half of the concentration found outside (35,000 Bq/cc vs. 74,000 Bq/cc). Thus, the interior water is significantly less contaminated than that in the outer reactor building. Second, the chloride level inside is ten times less than outside (19 part per million vs. 200ppm). This means that the salt concentration inside the PCV from the seawater used to cool unit #1 beginning at 8pm on March 12, 2011, is tremendously lower than outside. (Tepco; Kyodo News) This strongly suggests several things. First – the water inside the PCV is being recirculated more efficiently than that outside the robust containment walls. In other words, the recycled fresh water being injected into unit #1 is diluting the interior waters better than the exterior. Second - there can be no mixing of interior and exterior waters or the two sets of analyses would be essentially the same. While the concentration differences give us a better picture of the PCV’s interior environment, it raises a whole new set of questions as to what the actual water flow-path(s) through the building might be. Third - the interior water being lower in Cesium content than the exterior implies that the melted-then-re-solidified corium mostly remains inside the RPV itself. If the corium was mostly outside the RPV and heaped on the base-mat of the PCV - melted completely through the Reactor Pressure Vessel (RPV), as surmised by just about everyone in Japan - the interior waters should be massively higher in Cesium contamination than the exterior.

As regular readers of these updates can attest, I have long argued that if any of the three fuel cores actually melted through their RPV’s bottom head, it was unit #1. Today’s analyses put even that speculation into severe question. I have posted, on several occasions, that there was no melt-through of the unit #2 RPV. Unit #2 seems to have experienced core damage in the range of Three Mile Island in 1979, with most of the fuel cell melting and relocating to the RPV’s bottom head – but no melt-through. I have also written that I severely doubt melt-through speculations relative to unit #3 RPV. Unit #3 may well have experienced a total meltdown with full-core-relocation to the bottom head of the RPV, but once again, no melt-through. Given the differences with respect to the chemical make-up of the interior and exterior waters relative to the unit #1 PCV, and the fact that the highest radiation level inside the PCV is essentially parallel to the bottom head of the RPV (in today’s first update), I now believe it is possible that none of the reactors at Fukushima Daiichi experienced catastrophic RPV “melt-through”.

October 10

Antinuke Peter Bradford speaks with forked tongue

This week, America’s prestigious Wall Street Journal posted a debate entitled “Should the World Increase Its Reliance on Nuclear Energy”. The principles in the debate are Mark Lynas, at Oxford’s School of Geography and the Environment, and Peter Bradford, adjunct professor at Vermont’s Law School and former NRC commissioner. Lynas took the “Yes” position and Bradford the “No”. While Lynas was careful to present his views logically and rationally, Bradford resorted to trite, worn-out, largely-rhetorical antinuclear arguments that tainted the debate itself, and even resorted to outright fabrication.

Bradford argued that nuclear energy is too dangerous to be considered by incorporating three powerful persuasive tools used incessantly by those of the antinuclear persuasion – fear, uncertainty and doubt. His initial statement, “The full impact on people's health from last year's disaster at the Fukushima nuclear plant in Japan won't be known for years, if ever,” drips with his belief that we do not know the negative health effects of low level radiation exposure. The foundation of this belief is an exercise in twisted logic – he considers all radiation to be a potent carcinogen, thus it must be dangerous at all doses. He can’t bring himself to accept that the relative risk of low level exposure is just as miniscule as the exposures themselves, if they are risky at all. He steeps this belief in a clear act of certainty; he is certain that all levels of radiation exposure are carcinogenic and that the negative health effects of radiation will eventually be proven. He in essence guarantees it! This is the same vacuous, non-substantial rhetoric that has been used by all hardened antinuclear proponents for more than three decades.

A second slanted statement follows suit, “Thousands of Japanese may not return to their contaminated hometowns for many years, if ever”, once again using the uncertainty and doubt motif as his definitive tool. We should keep in mind that the Japanese government has adopted the most restrictive contamination standards in the world, generally ten times less than any other nation and based entirely on their attempt to soothe the wide-spread fear of radiation that has swept Japan. If any other national standard would be used for repopulation of the evacuated Japanese communities, tens of thousands would already be safely back in their homes. Using realistic, non-politically motivated standards and a concerted decontamination effort in the more-contaminated areas, everyone outside of Futaba and Okuma Towns (adjacent to Fukushima Daiichi) would be home in no more than ten years. But, Bradford neglects to point these things out. He assumes the worst for purely persuasive purposes on a world’s audience that is largely naïve of what is really happening in Japan.

However, perhaps the most misleading phrase culminates both statements; “If ever”! This is an obvious ploy to (first) make people think we will never know the biological effects of low level radiation exposure, and (second) that the evacuees of Fukushima will never be allowed to go home. In fact, he chooses what he says very carefully to make it seem that both assumptions will necessarily manifest. It makes no difference that a small mountain of conclusive evidence now exists showing that low level radiation exposure is not dangerous, and further a significant cache of evidence exists showing that low level exposures are actually good for you! Bradford wants the reader to believe the reason evacuees can’t go home is radiation and that Japan’s politics has nothing to do with it.

The above is but the tip of the iceberg. Bradford subsequently resorts to exaggeration and fabrication. First, Tepco is not the world’s largest publicly (privately) owned electric utility; it’s actually E.ON AG in Germany. In fact, Tepco ranks sixth in the world, per Forbes Magazine. Tepco is big…but not THAT big. He also says the Japanese government has collapsed due to Fukushima, but the truth is that Naoto Kan’s regime was tottering on the brink of failure before the tsunami ever struck the Tohoku coast. Plus, the Kan’s party, the DPJ, has remained in control of the government all along. Japan’s government has not “fallen” and Kan’s demise was inevitable, exacerbated by inadequate tsunami recovery efforts, a plummeting Yen, a Kan-created energy-infrastructure crisis, and his using Fukushima to divert attention away from all of the above. Lastly, Japan’s nuclear regulatory system before Fukushima was never considered to have been a world leader. In fact, it had come under serious international criticism for not protecting against the rare-but-not-impossible accident precursors for more than a decade prior to 3/11/11.

Not only has Bradford resorted to time-worn antinuclear rhetoric to try and prove his “too dangerous” conclusion, but his “facts” are making his nose grow.

 

 

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