Tag Archives: Fukushima

Walker gives green light to Wisconsin nukes

From WiG reports

Gov. Scott Walker has signed into law a bill lifting Wisconsin’s ban on new nuclear plants.

Under prior law, regulators could not approve a new nuclear plant unless a federal facility for storing waste existed and the plant didn’t burden ratepayers.

The new bill, signed five years after the meltdowns at Japan’s Fukushima nuclear plant, erases the storage and ratepayer clauses from the state law enacted in 1983. That was four years after a meltdown at the Three Mile Island plant in Pennsylvania and three years before the explosion and fire at the Chernobyl Nuclear Power Plant in Ukraine.

The bill’s Republican authors argued nuclear power is a renewable energy source and the ratepayer language duplicates other sections of state law that require regulators to determine that any new power plant won’t burden customers.

Republican state Rep. Kevin Petersen, in a memo introducing the bill, described nuclear power as affordable, clean, safe and necessary.

Proponents argue Wisconsin needs nuclear options to comply with the Obama administration’s clean power plan requiring energy producers to reduce carbon emissions.

That’s the very argument being made by Koch Industries and other fossil fuel giants who vehemently oppose wind and solar energy. The industry’s sway over Walker and the state’s GOP majority is widely believed to be the reason why green renewables in Wisconsin lag other states in the region.

Since 1997, the Koch brothers have personally spent at least $80 million persuading the public that climate change is a hoax, and Exxon-Mobil and other energy companies have spent many tens of millions more.

Meanwhile, environmentalists view nuclear energy as an unmitigated disaster.

“Nuclear energy is a distraction from realistic, cost-effective methods to reduce carbon emissions in Wisconsin: energy efficiency and renewable energy,” the Clean Wisconsin environmental group said in a statement on AB 384. “Nuclear is exorbitantly expensive and new plants take decades to get up and running.”

According to the Sierra Club, nuclear power has a huge carbon footprint, despite the carbon industry’s claims to the contrary. Carbon energy powers uranium mining, milling, processing, conversion and enrichment, as well as the formulation of fuel rods and construction of plants.

The Wisconsin League of Conservation Voters also opposed the law, referring to it as the “Nuking Wisconsin’s Energy Priorities Law.” The group urged the public to lobby legislators against allowing nuclear power plants in the state.

The Sierra Club-John Muir Chapter opposed the measure, as did the national Sierra Club, which remains “unequivocally opposed to nuclear energy.”

“Although nuclear plants have been in operation for less than 60 years, we now have seen three serious disasters,” a statement from the environmental group reads. “Nuclear is no solution to climate change and every dollar spent on nuclear is one less dollar spent on truly safe, affordable and renewable energy sources.”

The Sierra Club’s nuclear-free campaign emphasizes:

• The issue of what to do with the long-lived waste created by the fissioning of uranium remains unresolved.

• Uranium mining has contaminated large sections of the southwestern United States and many other areas in the world.

• Older nuclear plants sit in areas more densely populated than when they were built and almost all leak tritium and other radionuclides into groundwater.

• Newer nuclear plants remain expensive and need enormous amounts of water.

An additional concern in Wisconsin, according to the Carbon-Free, Nuclear-Free Coalition, is passage of the pro-nuclear bill could lead to the state becoming a depository for nuclear waste.

The coalition has warned passage of the bill could “send a strong message to the Department of Energy that Wisconsin is open to hosting a nuclear waste repository. In the 1980s, the DOE ranked Wisconsin’s Wolf River Batholith as No. 2 for a second high-level nuclear waste repository. A 2008 Department of Energy study on the Need for a Second Repository listed Wisconsin as one of the top potential states based on our granite geology. After the cancellation of the potential Yucca Mountain repository, the DOE is desperate to find an alternative.”

Wisconsin currently has one operational nuclear power plant, Point Beach, north of Two Rivers.

About 15.5 percent of Wisconsin’s electricity is nuclear, 62.3 comes from coal, 13.2 percent natural gas, 3.4 percent hydroelectric and 5.5 percent renewable.

Find more environmental news at www.wisconsingazette.com.

Read also: Crisis continues five years after Fukushima meltdown

Crisis continues 5 years after Fukushima meltdowns

The massive earthquake struck offshore, triggering a devastating tsunami. Thousands died in the disaster and three reactors at Japan’s Fukushima nuclear plant went into meltdown, exposing some 32 million people to radioactive fallout.

“There is no end in sight for communities in Fukushima,” said Junichi Sato, executive director of Greenpeace Japan. “What started as a natural disaster turned into one of the worst industrial accidents in human history and a reminder that humanity must urgently turn its efforts toward safe, clean renewables.”

Five years after the fires and explosions, some 100,000 people remain displaced, decontamination is far from complete, cleanup costs ballooned to $118 billion, the amount of radioactive waste and water builds with no solution for disposal and health studies show an alarming spike in thyroid cancer among Fukushima’s children.

The nuclear disaster compromised food supplies and affected flora, fauna and especially fisheries in Fukushima Bay, where contaminated water continues to flow.

The plant will never return to operation and decontamination seems nearly impossible — radiation levels are too high to enter the reactor housing. Radiation is even killing the robots built for the dirty work.

What has been learned at Fukushima?

“Although the probability of nuclear accidents is thought to be very low, the consequences are extraordinary and devastatingly high,” University of Chicago professor Kennette Benedict recently wrote in an essay for the Bulletin of the Atomic Scientists. “The disruption to individual health, to families, to communities, to energy supplies, to economies and to societies has long-lasting effects.”

In Japan, 53 percent of citizens oppose the resumption of the country’s nuclear energy program.

A slightly larger percentage is registering opposition to nuclear power in the United States, even as the U.S. government and Wisconsin Legislature move to encourage an expansion of nuclear energy.

In Wisconsin

Six years ago, on the 24th anniversary of the nuclear disaster at Chernobyl in Ukraine, Wisconsin residents celebrated the defeat of a Republican effort to repeal what’s called the “nuclear moratorium law.”

The law actually did not create a moratorium on the construction of new nuclear plants. Instead it required that any proposed nuke plant be economical for ratepayers and have a permanent storage site for spent nuclear fuel and other waste.

Environmentalists, after turning back a repeal, claimed a victory six years ago. Not so this year.

The Legislature has sent Gov. Scott Walker another repeal bill intended to ease the path to constructing nuclear plants.

And Walker is likely to sign the measure, which predictably has strong support from business and labor and strong opposition from environmental groups.

The legislation will remove the requirement that new nuclear power plants have a plan for storing and disposing of their waste, according to the Wisconsin League of Conservation Voters, part of the coalition that rallied against the bill.

Additionally, the legislation will add nuclear energy to the list of preferred energy options in the state, even though Wisconsin’s Energy Priorities Law was intended to promote the cleanest and cheapest forms of energy.

The legislative effort had some small support in the environmental community, but largely was opposed by activists who encouraged lawmakers to focus instead on wind, solar and geothermal energy.

These environmentalists also warned passage of the bill could lead to the state becoming a depository for nuclear waste.

A letter to lawmakers from the Carbon-Free, Nuclear-Free Coalition stated, “In the 1980s, the Department of Energy ranked Wisconsin’s Wolf River Batholith as No. 2 for a second high-level nuclear waste repository. A 2008 DOE Study on the Need for a Second Repository listed Wisconsin as one of the top potential states based on our granite geology. After the cancellation of the potential Yucca Mountain repository [in Nevada], the DOE is desperate to find an alternative.” Signatories included representatives of Clean Wisconsin, Wisconsin Public Interest Research Group, Wisconsin Resources Protection Council and the Sierra Club-John Muir Chapter.

Anti-nuke sentiment growing

The Sierra Club is unequivocally opposed to nuclear energy. The organization’s nuclear-free future statement says, “Although nuclear plants have been in operation for less than 60 years, we now have seen three serious disasters,” referring to Three Mile Island, Chernobyl and Fukushima. “Nuclear is no solution to climate change and every dollar spent on nuclear is one less dollar spent on truly safe, affordable and renewable energy sources.”

The Sierra Club’s nuclear-free campaign emphasizes:

• What to do with the long-lived waste remains unresolved.

• Uranium mining has contaminated large sections of the southwestern United States and other areas in the world.

• Almost all older plants leak tritium and other radionuclides into groundwater.

• Nuclear power has a huge carbon footprint due to energy needs in uranium mining, milling, processing, conversion and enrichment, formulation of fuel rods and construction of plants.

A new Gallup Poll indicates that 54 percent of Americans are on Sierra’s side.

Gallup began asking about nuclear energy in 1994 but not until this poll has a majority opposed nuclear power.

Gallup found Republicans more likely to favor nuclear power than Democrats or independents, but support is down all around.

Gallup, in its analysis, suggested the drop in support had more to do with relatively low gasoline prices than fear of a nuclear accident.

Yet environmental leaders say people should be afraid — as the impact of a Fukushima-like nuclear disaster cannot ever be fully mitigated.

“All of Fukushima’s lessons warn against a nuclear industry that protects its profit margins over public safety margins,” said Paul Gunter of the nonprofit Beyond Nuclear.

Forever in Fukushima?

Greenpeace, in mid-March, released Radiation Reloaded, a report on the ecological impact in Fukushima that documented:

• High radiation concentrations in new leaves on cedars.

• Mutations of fir trees with rising radiation levels.

• Heritable mutations in pale blue grass butterfly populations.

• DNA-damaged worms in highly concentrated areas.

• Apparent reduced fertility in barn swallows.

• Decreased abundance of 57 bird species with higher radiation levels.

• High levels of cesium contamination in freshwater fish.

• Radiological contamination of coastal estuaries.

“For the foreseeable future, Fukushima-contaminated ecosystems will continue to be radiation loaded. And reloaded,” the Greenpeace report stated, noting how man-made radioactive elements are taken up by plants and animals, cycled and recycled.

The findings were based on 25 radiological investigations in Fukushima and independent research in the area.

Greenpeace also drew from research into the 1986 disaster at Chernobyl.

“The government’s massive decontamination program will have almost no impact on reducing the ecological threat from the enormous amount of radiation from the Fukushima nuclear disaster,” said Kendra Ulrich, senior nuclear campaigner for Greenpeace Japan. “Already, over 9 million cubic meters of nuclear waste are scattered over at least 113,000 locations across Fukushima prefecture.”

Benedict, the University of Chicago professor, summarized the nuclear power dilemma: “The products of nuclear fission, including melted fuel as well as other radiation-contaminated materials, will require continuous care and storage for tens of thousands of years. The question is whether any society has the capacity to safely deal with this fire that will not go out.”

Fukushima, then and now

On March 11, 2011, an earthquake and tsunami sent the Fukushima Daiichi nuclear power plant in Japan into multiple meltdowns and exploded containment buildings.

A look at the disaster and recovery:

• 164,865: Fukushima residents who fled their homes after the catastrophe.

• 97,320: Number of residents who haven’t returned.

• 53: Percent of Japanese citizens who oppose the restarting of nuclear power plants in the country.

• 760,000: Metric tons of contaminated water stored at the Fukushima plant.

• 10.7 million: Number of 1-ton bags containing radioactive debris and other waste collected from outside the plant.

• 33,000 workers: Decommissioning and decontaminating outside the plant.

— AP

5 years after the Fukushima disaster

The worst nuclear accident in history occurred five years ago at the Fukushima Daichi nuclear plant in Japan.

Following an earthquake and tsunami on March 11, 2011, three out of four reactors on the site melted down and a hydrogen explosion released deadly radiation into the atmosphere.

Three former executives of Tokyo Electric Power Co. (Tepco), the owner of the Fukushima nuclear plant, were recently indicted for criminal negligence for failing to take action to prevent damage to the nuclear plant from a tsunami. Experts had warned Tepco about the dangers of an earthquake and a tsunami hitting the plant in June 2009.

Following an earthquake and tsunami on March 11, 2011, three out of four reactors on the site melted down and a hydrogen explosion released deadly radiation into the atmosphere.
Following an earthquake and tsunami on March 11, 2011, three out of four reactors on the site melted down and a hydrogen explosion released deadly radiation into the atmosphere.

At Fukushima

Approximately 150,000 people were evacuated in response to the accident. It is estimated that about 700 square miles of land in Fukushima Prefecture have now been contaminated by high levels of radiation. But the Fukushima nuclear disaster is far from over.

The damaged reactors continue to leak radioactivity into the surrounding soil and sea. To minimize further radioactive releases, vast quantities of cooling water are needed. This contaminated cooling water is accumulating at the site and being discharged into the Pacific Ocean. Moreover, according to the International Physicians for the Prevention of Nuclear War, “failures in the makeshift cooling systems are occurring repeatedly. The damaged nuclear reactors and spent fuel ponds, containing vast amounts of radioactivity, are highly vulnerable to further earthquake, tsunami, typhoon or deliberate damage. Further catastrophic releases of radioactivity are possible at any time.”

Minimizing Fukushima

Nuclear proponents in the United States try to minimize the extent of the Fukushima catastrophe by claiming that no deaths have been attributed to radiation exposure.

However, this ignores the social impact of the disaster. Official data from Fukushima show that between 2011 and 2015, nearly 2,000 people died from the effects of evacuations necessary to avoid high radiation exposures from the disaster. The mass evacuation uprooted entire communities, divided families and resulted in the loss of social support networks. These deaths were from ill health, poor physical conditions and suicides, especially among older people.

There is also great controversy over the amounts and longer-term health effects of radiation exposures from the Fukushima radioactive fallout. For example, in April 2014, the United Nations Scientific Committee on the Effects of Atomic Radiation published its report on radiation exposure due to the nuclear accident and concluded that, “No discernible changes in future cancer rates and hereditary diseases are expected due to exposure to radiation as a result of the Fukushima nuclear accident.” The International Physicians for the Prevention of Nuclear War responded with its own critique, suggesting that the UNSCEAR  report was a systematic underestimation of the health and environmental effects of the disaster.

In particular, the total amount of radioactivity released by the disaster was underestimated by UNSCEAR because it only counted releases during the first weeks of the disaster and ignored all radioactive discharges to the ocean after April 30, 2011. Roughly 300 tons of highly contaminated water has been dumped into the Pacific Ocean every day for more than four years.

To focus on the lack of deaths from radiation exposure also serves to obscure the time lag between radiation exposure and deaths from cancer years later. New scientific research reported in The Ecologist from England indicates a 30-fold excess of thyroid cancer within four years after the disaster among over 400,000 young people below the age of eighteen from the Fukushima area. Thyroid cancer is a frequent occurrence as a result of acute exposure to radioactive iodine 131, a product of nuclear fission. The authors of the study note that the incidence of thyroid cancer is high by comparison with the Chernobyl nuclear disaster in 1986 at the same time following exposure and warn that more cases are likely to emerge.

Naoto Kan, who was Japan’s prime minister when the Fukushima nuclear disaster began is now calling for the abolition of nuclear power. Kan compared the potential worst-case devastation that could be caused by a nuclear plant meltdown as tantamount only to “a great world war. Nothing else has the same impact.”

Al Gedicks is emeritus professor of environmental sociology at the University of Wisconsin-La Crosse.