Tag Archives: nuclear power

Street artist plasters anti-Trump stickers around Tokyo

Japanese graffiti artist “281 Antinuke” says his latest street art — politically-charged stickers plastered around central Tokyo — takes aim at U.S. President Donald Trump.

Amid the bustling night life of Shibuya, a major shopping and entertainment hub in Tokyo, the artist pastes stickers dealing with social issues to lamp posts and walls to attract the attention of passersby.

His latest postings target the controversial remarks made by Trump about women and minorities during his 2016 campaign.

The stickers show a figure resembling the U.S. president standing between figures in white capes, which symbolize members of the white supremacist group Ku Klux Klan, the artist told Reuters Television in a recent interview.

“My art was produced out of the fear of what may happen to Japan because of such a horrifying leader,” 281 Antinuke said, Trump “is saying white supremacist things, things that are much more than America first,” he said.

Wearing sunglasses and a white surgical mask, 281 Antinuke declined to give his name or reveal his face, saying he feared retaliation for the political views contained in his art.

Graffiti is also punishable by heavy penalties and frowned upon by Japanese society.

Much of 281 Antinuke’s previous artwork criticized nuclear power, inspired after the March 11, 2011, earthquake and tsunami that caused a meltdown at the Fukushima nuclear plant.

The artist said the more political a sticker — other works have criticized Japan Prime Minister Shinzo Abe — the faster it is taken down.

On the busy streets of Shibuya, people who stopped to take a look were initially confused by the anti-Trump stickers.

“My first impression is that they are hard to understand, but once I get the context of it, it’s very expressive as an art form,” said Tokyo resident Manato Kato.

Test finds Chernobyl residue in Belarus milk

On the edge of Belarus’ Chernobyl exclusion zone, down the road from the signs warning “Stop! Radiation,” a dairy farmer offers his visitors a glass of freshly drawn milk.

Associated Press reporters politely decline the drink but pass on a bottled sample to a laboratory, which confirms it contains levels of a radioactive isotope at levels 10 times higher than the nation’s food safety limits.

The authoritarian government of this agriculture-dependent nation appears determined to restore long-idle land to farm use — and in a country where dissent is quashed, any objection to the policy is thin.

That finding on the eve of the 30th anniversary of the world’s worst nuclear accident indicates how fallout from the April 26, 1986, explosion at the plant in neighboring Ukraine continues to taint life in Belarus. The authoritarian government of this agriculture-dependent nation appears determined to restore long-idle land to farm use — and in a country where dissent is quashed, any objection to the policy is thin.

The farmer, Nikolai Chubenok, proudly says his herd of 50 dairy cows produces up to two tons of milk a day for the local factory of Milkavita, whose brand of Parmesan cheese is sold chiefly in Russia. Milkavita officials called the AP-commissioned lab finding “impossible,” insisting their own tests show their milk supply contains traces of radioactive isotopes well below safety limits.

Yet a tour along the edge of the Polesie Radioecological Reserve, a 2,200-square-kilometer (850-square-mile) ghost landscape of 470 evacuated villages and towns, reveals a nation showing little regard for the potentially cancer-causing isotopes still to be found in the soil. Farmers suggest the lack of mutations and other glaring health problems mean Chernobyl’s troubles can be consigned to history.

“There is no danger. How can you be afraid of radiation?” said Chubenok, who since 2014 has produced milk from his farm just 45 kilometers (28 miles) north of the shuttered Chernobyl site, and two kilometers (a mile) from the boundary of a zone that remains officially off-limits to full-time human habitation. Chubenok says he hopes to double his herd size and start producing farmhouse cheese on site.

His milk is part of the Milkavita supply chain for making Polesskiye brand cheese, about 90 percent of which is sold in Russia, the rest domestically. The World Bank identifies Russia as the major market for Belarusian food exports, which represent 15 percent of the country’s export economy.

Since rising to power in 1994, President Alexander Lukashenko — the former director of a state-owned farm — has stopped resettlement programs for people living near the mandatory exclusion zone and developed a long-term plan to raze empty villages and reclaim the land for crops and livestock. The Chernobyl explosion meant 138,000 Belarusians closest to the plant had to be resettled, while 200,000 others living nearby left voluntarily.

One of the most prominent medical critics of the government’s approach to safeguarding the public from Chernobyl fallout, Dr. Yuri Bandazhevsky, was removed as director of a Belarusian research institute and imprisoned in 2001 on corruption charges that international rights groups branded politically motivated. Since his 2005 parole he has resumed his research into Chernobyl-related cancers with European Union sponsorship.

Bandazhevsky, now based in Ukraine, says he has no doubt that Belarus is failing to protect citizens from carcinogens in the food supply.

“In Belarus, there is no protection of the population from radiation exposure.”

“We have a disaster,” he told the AP in the Ukraine capital, Kiev. “In Belarus, there is no protection of the population from radiation exposure. On the contrary, the government is trying to persuade people not to pay attention to radiation, and food is grown in contaminated areas and sent to all points in the country.”

The milk sample subjected to an AP-commissioned analysis backs this picture.

The state-run Minsk Center of Hygiene and Epidemiology said it found strontium-90, a radioactive isotope linked to cancers and cardiovascular disease, in quantities 10 times higher than Belarusian food safety regulations allow. The test, like others in resource-strapped Belarus, was insufficiently sophisticated to test for heavier radioactive isotopes associated with nuclear fallout, including americium and variants of plutonium.

The Belarusian Agriculture Ministry says levels of strontium-90 should not exceed 3.7 becquerels per kilogram in food and drink. Becquerels are a globally recognized unit of measurement for radioactivity.

The Minsk lab informed the AP that the milk sample contained 37.5 becquerels. That radioactive isotope is, along with cesium-137, commonly produced during nuclear fission and generates most of the heat and penetrating radiation from nuclear waste. When consumed, scientists say strontium-90 mimics the behavior of calcium in the human body, settling in bones.

Milkavita chief engineer Maia Fedonchuk rejected the findings.

“It’s impossible. We do our own testing. There must have been a mix-up,” she said, adding they test samples from every batch of milk they receive from Chubenok and do an “in-depth” analysis every six months. She said the plant’s own lab analysis indicates its overall milk supply contains an average of 2.85 becquerels per kilogram.

A person who answered the telephone at the press office of the Belarusian Emergency Situations Ministry, which is tasked with dealing with the fallout of the nuclear disaster, said they would not comment on the AP’s findings.

Health officials say the danger level posed by low levels of radioactive isotopes depends greatly on length of exposure and individual physiology. Notably, the regional free-trade bloc that includes Belarus and Russia permits higher levels of strontium-90 in goods of up to 25 becquerels per kilogram, still lower than that detected in the AP-commissioned test.

The question is whether anyone in authority is positioned to identify the true level of risks in produce from farms on the frontier of Belarus’ prohibited zone.

The deputy director of Belarus’ Institute of Radiobiology, Natalya Timokhina, said Belarus permits food producers to conduct their own food safety monitoring and lacks the lab equipment necessary to identify the presence of americium, which is estimated to be present in about 2 percent of Belarus’ top soil and is expected to remain a health risk for another 270 years.

“One-time ingestion of contaminated food is not very dangerous,” Timokhina said. “What’s dangerous is the accumulation of radionuclides in the body.”

Ausrele Kesminiene, a doctor in the cancer research unit of the World Health Organization, said the consumption of radioactive food is linked chiefly to the development of cancer in the thyroid, a gland in the neck that produces body-regulating hormones. Thyroid cancer is typically not fatal if diagnosed early.

WHO officials say they are dependent on reports from sister agencies in Belarus to alert them to cancer clusters or other signs of unresolved Chernobyl-related dangers. Gregory Hartl, a WHO spokesman in Geneva, said the agency had no authority to regulate or oversee food safety _ even products exported to other countries _ because that is a domestic responsibility.

“Radiation effects and the development of cancers and the effects on the region are something which go on over a long, long period. So we haven’t seen the end of it,” Hartl said. “Undoubtedly there is going to be some increase in cancers.”

Hartl said WHO officials have not received “any red flags” from Belarus.

Environmentalists critical of Belarus’ Chernobyl cleanup record says that’s hardly surprising, since the government has funded no machinery to scrutinize corrupt practices in the food industry. As a result, they say, no Belarusian food maker has ever been prosecuted for using ingredients or producing goods containing excessive levels of radioactive materials.

Irina Sukhiy, founder of the Belarus ecological group Green Network, said workers in food-industry factories have confidentially told her that ingredients and products are blended to dilute the impact of potentially radioactive ingredients from Belarusian suppliers bordering Ukraine. Such alleged mixing, she said, reduces the level of potentially carcinogenic isotopes in dairy products and processed meat below “the allowable dose, but it is still hazardous to health.”

The division of the Belarusian Emergencies Ministry responsible for cleaning up the consequences of Chernobyl says that the rate of thyroid cancer in children runs 33 times higher than before the nuclear blast. It says thyroid cancer rates run several times higher in adults.

Farmers working both on the edge of, and inside, the prohibited zone say they see no obvious signs of nuclear dangers, have been given no guidelines on reducing the risk of permitting radioactive isotopes into the food chain, and aren’t worried about this.

Chubenok, the dairy farmer, said he had never heard of the sorbent substance Ferocin, known as Prussian Blue, which farmers in Ukraine feed their cattle to accelerate the removal of the cesium-137 isotope from their digestive tracts.

A tractor driver on one of his neighboring farms, where an abandoned village has been demolished to make way for fields of grain, says he’s never seen an official testing for radiation levels in the soil. But Leonid Kravchenko said there was no reason for alarm.

“Nobody’s in danger,” he said.

Driving toward Chernobyl and into the nearby Radioecological Reserve required AP journalists to negotiate painstaking government permission. Inside the zone, Belarus has authorized an experimental farm to operate for the past decade. Today it contains 265 horses, 56 cows and apiaries buzzing with honey bees.

The farm director, Mikhail Kirpichenko, said he’s permitted to pursue commercial ventures, including the sale last year of 100 horses to a Belarusian manufacturer of kumys, a popular beverage in swathes of Eastern Europe and Central Asia. Kumys is produced from fermented mares’ milk.

“We’re not afraid of radiation. We’ve already gotten used to it,” said Kirpichenko, who suggested that his horses had to pass a basic eyesight test to confirm their good health.

“Horses aren’t being born with two heads or without legs. There are no such mutations,” he said. “This Chernobyl syndrome passed long ago.”

Associated Press reporters Jim Heintz and Nataliya Vasilyeva in Moscow, Pietro DeCristofaro in Geneva and Shawn Pogatchnik in Dublin contributed to this story.

 

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

Nuclear power plant leaking into Florida bay

A Miami-Dade County study in Biscayne Bay found high levels of a radioactive isotope linked to water from canals at Florida Power & Light’s Turkey Point nuclear power plant.

The Miami Herald reports that county commissioners called for quicker action and closer scrutiny during a meeting Tuesday. Lee Hefty, the county’s chief environmental regulator, said he plans to issue a violation against the utility.

The study released Monday by County Mayor Carlos Gimenez says water sampling in December and January found tritium levels up to 215 times higher than normal in ocean water. The study comes two weeks after a Tallahassee judge ordered FPL and the state to clean up the nuclear power plant’s cooling canals.

FPL spokeswoman Bianca Cruz said Tuesday that the utility is working to improve conditions at the canals and analyzing data from various sample points.

A Miami-Dade County study in Biscayne Bay found high levels of a radioactive isotope linked to water from canals at Florida Power & Light's Turkey Point nuclear power plant. — PHOTO: FPL
A Miami-Dade County study in Biscayne Bay found high levels of a radioactive isotope linked to water from canals at Florida Power & Light’s Turkey Point nuclear power plant. — PHOTO: FPL

 

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.

 

Radioactive material found in groundwater under nuclear power plant

An apparent overflow at a nuclear power plant north of New York City spilled highly radioactive water into an underground monitoring well.

Officials at the Indian Point Energy Center in Buchanan, 40 miles north of Manhattan, reported that water contaminated by tritium leaked into the groundwater under the facility. The contamination has remained contained to the site, said Democratic Gov. Andrew Cuomo, who ordered the state’s environmental conservation and health departments to investigate.

“Our first concern is for the health and safety of the residents close to the facility and ensuring the groundwater leak does not pose a threat,” Cuomo said Saturday in a statement.

The leak occurred after a drain overflowed during a maintenance exercise while workers were transferring water, which has high levels of radioactive contamination, said Neil Sheehan, a spokesman for the Nuclear Regulatory Commission. Normally, a sump pump would take the water and filter it into another treatment system, but the pump apparently was out of service, Sheehan said. After the drain overflowed, the water seeped out of the building into the groundwater.

It was unclear how much water spilled, but samples showed the water had a radioactivity level of more than 8 million picocuries per liter, a 65,000 percent increase from the average at the plant, Cuomo said. The levels are the highest regulators have seen at Indian Point, and the normal number is about 12,300 picocuries per liter, Cuomo said.

Contaminated groundwater would likely slowly make its way to the Hudson River, Sheehan said, but research has shown that water usually ends up in the middle of the river and is so diluted that the levels of radioactivity are nearly undetectable.

A spokesman for Entergy Corp., the New Orleans-based company that operates Indian Point, said the overflow was “likely the cause of the elevated tritium levels.”

“Tritium in the ground is not in accordance with our standards, but I think people should keep in mind there’s no health or safety consequences,” spokesman Jerry Nappi said. “There is no impact on drinking water on or off site.”

> There has been a history of groundwater contamination at Indian Point.

There has been a history of groundwater contamination at Indian Point. A federal oversight agency issued a report after about 100,000 gallons of tritium-tainted water entered the groundwater supply in 2009, and elevated levels of tritium also were found in two monitoring wells at the plant in 2014. Officials said then the contamination likely stemmed from an earlier maintenance shutdown.

An Associated Press investigation in 2009 showed three-quarters of America’s 65 nuclear plant sites have leaked tritium, a radioactive form of hydrogen that poses the greatest risk of causing cancer when it ends up in drinking water. 

Wisconsin Assembly votes to lift barrier to new nukes

Editor’s note: The Senate is due to take up the bill on Feb. 16.

“No nukes now. No nukes probably forever,” says environmental activist Kevin Moore. 

Moore, in the late 1980s, went to jail as a protester seeking to block the licensing of nuclear power plants.

He’s remained active since. And, like many no-nuke demonstrators who committed to the cause in the late 1970s and 1980s, he’s baffled by the current campaign to build new plants.

“Did I miss something?” the 72-year-old activist asked. “Did they figure out what to do with the waste?”

The answer is no.

Yet, the Wisconsin Assembly has passed AB 384, which would remove a barrier to building new nuclear plants enacted in 1983, 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. Current state law prohibits new plants until the construction of a federal storage facility for nuclear waste.

A Senate committee held a hearing on its version of the pro-nuclear bill, SB288, on Jan. 5, but had not voted on the measure when WiG went to press.

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

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

But opponents say that’s a false argument.

“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.”

The Wisconsin League of Conservation Voters refers to AB 384 as the “Nuking Wisconsin’s Energy Priorities Law” and has urged members to lobby their legislators.

The Sierra Club-John Muir Chapter also opposes the measure.

Meanwhile, the national Sierra Club has responded to a renewed nuclear energy push with a “nuclear free future” campaign.

“The Sierra Club remains unequivocally opposed to nuclear energy,” read a statement from the leading environmental group.

“Although nuclear plants have been in operation for less than 60 years, we now have seen three serious disasters,” the statement continued, referring to Three Mile Island, Chernobyl and the disaster in Fukushima, Japan, in 2011. “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.

• Despite what energy industry leaders claim, nuclear power has a huge carbon footprint. Carbon energy powers uranium mining, milling, processing, conversion and enrichment, as well as the formulation of fuel rods and construction of plants.

A letter that Sierra’s John Muir chapter sent to Wisconsin lawmakers on behalf of a Carbon-Free, Nuclear-Free Coalition warned passage of the pro-nuclear bill could lead to the state becoming a depository for nuclear waste.

Elizabeth Ward of the Sierra Club-John Muir Chapter, Katie Nekola of Clean Wisconsin, Amy Schulz of Physicians for Social Responsibility, Peter Skopec of Wisconsin Public Interest Research Group and Al Gedicks of Wisconsin Resources Protection Council signed the letter, along with Chuck Baynton and Judy Miner.

The coalition said 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 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, the DOE is desperate to find an alternative.”

Wisconsin’s energy mix

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

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

— Lisa Neff

A look at bills the Wisconsin Legislature is considering: From legalizing conceal-and-carry switchblades to banning fetal tissue research

Wisconsin lawmakers are due to resume the 2015-16 legislative session with a Senate floor debate on Jan. 12.

Majority Republicans are sifting through an agenda that includes bills overhauling the state’s civil service system, banning research on tissue from aborted fetuses and banning transgender students to use bathrooms that correspond to their gender identity.

Here’s a look at some other proposals Republicans are trying to push through before the session ends in April:

NUCLEAR POWER: Lifts Wisconsin’s moratorium on new nuclear power plants. The bill’s author, Rep. Kevin Peterson, R-Waupaca, says nuclear power is a clean, affordable option as utilities work to meet new federal greenhouse gas rules. The Assembly is set to vote on the proposal on Jan. 12.

DRUNKEN DRIVING: Republicans are pushing a pair of bills that would require the state Department of Transportation to strip repeat drunken drivers of their licenses for at least a decade and increase maximum prison sentences for repeat offenders.

MANAGED FORESTS: Allows landowners in the state’s managed forest program to close off as much land as they want to the public while still enjoying property tax breaks. Right now, landowners who enroll in the program get huge property tax breaks if they keep their land open to the public for recreation and abide by a timber management plan. Non-industrial landowners can close only 160 acres to the public. Property owners complain the bill doesn’t let them lease closed land to hunters.

FIGHTING HEROIN: Rep. John Nygren, R-Marinette, has four bills designed to help curb prescription drug abuse in hopes of slowing heroin abuse. Dubbed the Hope Agenda, the bills would require opiate dispensers to enter prescriptions into a statewide database within 24 hours; require police who find an opiate prescription at an overdose scene to enter it into the database; require methadone and pain clinics to register with the state; and require methadone clinics to report staffing rations, patients receiving the medication and average mileage a person travels to the clinic to the state. The Assembly is set to vote on the package Jan. 12.

SCHOOL REFERENDA: School districts would be barred from bringing failed spending referendums back to the voters for a year. Supporters say the measure is about protecting taxpayers from districts’ repeated attempts to pass referendums. School officials are strongly opposed to the proposal, saying legislators shouldn’t tie their hands.

BLAZE PINK: Allows gun hunters to wear fluorescent pink rather than blaze orange. Supporters say the measure will encourage more women to take up hunting and give apparel manufacturers a boost. The Assembly passed the bill in November. The Senate has yet to vote.

HUNTER HARASSMENT: Prohibits people from harassing hunters by remaining in a hunter’s sight, photographing a hunter, using a drone to photograph a hunter or confronting a hunter more than twice with the intent to interfere with or impede their activities. Republicans say they’re worried about hunters’ safety after the Wolf Patrol, a group of animal rights activists, followed and filmed wolf hunters in Wisconsin and Montana in 2014. Opponents say the measure might violate nature lovers’ free speech rights.

WRONGFUL CONVICTIONS: Increases state compensation for the wrongly convicted to $50,000 for every year behind bars with a total payout of $1 million with adjustments for inflation every five years. Wisconsin currently offers people who are exonerated $5,000 per year of incarceration up to $25,000.

LEGALIZING SWITCHBLADES: The Assembly passed a bill that would legalize switchblades and allow people to carry them as concealed weapons in October. The bill is now in the Senate.

Control rod failures force shutdown of nuclear power plant

One of the Indian Point nuclear power plant’s reactors was shut down over the weekend after several control rods lost power, the plant owner said, marking the latest in a series of mishaps at the suburban New York plant this year.

Control room operators shut down the Indian Point 2 reactor around 5:30 p.m. on Dec. 5, owner Entergy Corp. said in a statement, adding the reactor did what it’s intended to do if control rods lose electricity. 

“All equipment at unit 2 operated as designed and the plant safely shut down,” the statement said. 

The company said it’s not yet clear what caused the power problem. 

Entergy reported no radiation was released into the environment, said Gov. Andrew Cuomo, who has complained that there have been too many problems at Indian Point and has called for closing down the plant. The state Department of Public Service was headed to investigate and monitor the situation at the two-reactor plant in Buchanan, about 30 miles north of midtown Manhattan. 

Federal Nuclear Regulatory Commission representatives didn’t immediately responded to a request for comment on the shutdown.

The plant’s other reactor, Indian Point 3, remained running. Together, the two reactors supply about one-fourth of the power used in New York City and Westchester County.

The plant has experienced a number of unplanned shutdowns this year. Indian Point 3 was shut down for a time in July after a water pump problem, and in June because of an electrical disturbance at a switch yard outside the plant. A water-system alarm failure in January led workers to start shutting down one of the reactors, although repairs were made and the shutdown reversed.

And in May, a transformer failure and a fire on the non-nuclear side of the plant forced an automatic shutdown of Indian Point 3 that lasted 16 days. The fire was extinguished quickly and caused no safety problems at the reactor, but it spilled about 3,000 gallons of transformer fluid into the Hudson River. Federal regulators found that workers at the plant responded appropriately to the transformer fire, which was blamed on insulation failure. 

Dating to the 1970s, both of Indian Point’s reactors are up for relicensing. That has sparked some objections from state and city officials, who cite worries ranging from its effect on Hudson River fish larvae to the safety implications of a nuclear plant so close to New York City. 

Federal officials and New Orleans-based Entergy have said the plant is safe, and Entergy has pointed to $1 billion in safety enhancements over the last decade. The company also has noted that the plant generates more than 10 percent of the state’s energy supply, while producing little air pollution or emissions contributing to global warming. 

The recent shutdown came about two hours before a power outage darkened a stretch of New York’s Hudson Valley and nearby Pennsylvania, about 45 miles away from Indian Point. But the utility involved in that outage, traced to an equipment malfunction in an electric transmission substation, said it had no relation to the power problem at Indian Point.