Nuclear issues

February 6, 2015

Informational items on various aspects of the nuclear industry

nuke-hazards

Australian uranium fuelled Fukushima

April 5, 2021

Australian uranium fuelled Fukushima  https://theecologist.org/2021/mar/09/australian-uranium-fuelled-fukushima, Dr Jim Green, David Noonan 9th March 2021The Fukushima disaster was fuelled by Australian uranium but lessons were not learned and the industry continues to fuel global nuclear insecurity with irresponsible uranium export policies.Fukushima was an avoidable disaster, fuelled by Australian uranium and the hubris and profiteering of Japan’s nuclear industry in collusion with compromised regulators and captured bureaucracies.

The Nuclear Accident Independent Investigation Commission ‒ established by the Japanese Parliament ‒ concluded in its 2012 report that the accident was “a profoundly man-made disaster that could and should have been foreseen and prevented” if not for “a multitude of errors and wilful negligence that left the Fukushima plant unprepared for the events of March 11”.

The accident was the result of “collusion between the government, the regulators and TEPCO”, the commission found.

Mining

But overseas suppliers who turned a blind eye to unacceptable nuclear risks in Japan have largely escaped scrutiny or blame. Australia’s uranium industry is a case in point.

Yuki Tanaka from the Hiroshima Peace Institute noted: “Japan is not the sole nation responsible for the current nuclear disaster. From the manufacture of the reactors by GE to provision of uranium by Canada, Australia and others, many nations are implicated.”

There is no dispute that Australian uranium was used in the Fukushima reactors. The mining companies won’t acknowledge that fact — instead they hide behind claims of “commercial confidentiality” and “security”.

But the Australian Safeguards and Non-Proliferation Office acknowledged in October 2011 that: “We can confirm that Australian obligated nuclear material was at the Fukushima Daiichi site and in each of the reactors — maybe five out of six, or it could have been all of them”.

BHP and Rio Tinto, two of the world’s largest mining companies, supplied Australian uranium to TEPCO and that uranium was used to fuel Fukushima.

Tsunamis


The mining companies have failed to take any responsibility for the catastrophic impacts on Japanese society that resulted from the use of their uranium in a poorly managed, poorly regulated industry.

Moreover, the mining companies can’t claim ignorance. The warning signs were clear. Australia’s uranium industry did nothing as TEPCO and other Japanese nuclear companies lurched from scandal to scandal and accident to accident.

The uranium industry did nothing in 2002 when it was revealed that TEPCO had systematically and routinely falsified safety data and breached safety regulations for 25 years or more.

The uranium industry did nothing in 2007 when over 300 incidents of ‘malpractice’ at Japan’s nuclear plants were revealed – 104 of them at nuclear power plants.

It did nothing even as the ability of Japan’s nuclear plants to withstand earthquakes and tsunamis came under growing criticism from industry insiders and independent experts.

Vicious cycle

And the uranium industry did nothing about the multiple conflicts of interest plaguing Japanese nuclear regulators.

Mirarr senior Traditional Owner Yvonne Margarula ‒ on whose land in the Northern Territory Rio Tinto’s Ranger mine operated ‒ said she was “deeply saddened” that uranium from Ranger was exported to Japanese nuclear companies including TEPCO.

No such humility from the uranium companies. They get tetchy at any suggestion of culpability, with the Australian Uranium Association describing it as “opportunism in the midst of human tragedy” and “utter nonsense”.

Yet, Australia could have played a role in breaking the vicious cycle of mismanagement in Japan’s nuclear industry by making uranium exports conditional on improved management of nuclear plants and tighter regulation.

Even a strong public statement of concern would have been heard by the Japanese utilities – unless it was understood to be rhetoric for public consumption – and it would have registered in the Japanese media.

Safety

But the uranium industry denied culpability and instead stuck its head in the sand. Since the industry is in denial about its role in fuelling the Fukushima disaster, there is no reason to believe that it will behave more responsibly in future.

Successive Australian governments did nothing about the unacceptable standards in Japan’s nuclear industry. Julia Gillard ‒ Australia’s Prime Minister at the time of the Fukushima disaster ‒ said the disaster “doesn’t have any impact on my thinking about uranium exports”.

Signification elements of Japan’s corrupt ‘nuclear village’ ‒ comprising industry, regulators, politicians and government agencies ‒ were back in control just a few years after the Fukushima disaster. Regulation remains problematic.

Add to that ageing reactors, and companies facing serious economic stress and intense competition, and there’s every reason for ongoing concern about nuclear safety in Japan.

Professor Yoshioka Hitoshi is a Kyushu University academic who served on the government’s 2011-12 Investigation Committee on the Accident at the Fukushima Nuclear Power Stations.

Regulation

They said in October 2015: “Unfortunately, the new regulatory regime is … inadequate to ensure the safety of Japan’s nuclear power facilities. The first problem is that the new safety standards on which the screening and inspection of facilities are to be based are simply too lax.

“While it is true that the new rules are based on international standards, the international standards themselves are predicated on the status quo.

“They have been set so as to be attainable by most of the reactors already in operation. In essence, the NRA made sure that all Japan’s existing reactors would be able to meet the new standards with the help of affordable piecemeal modifications ‒ back-fitting, in other words.”

In the aftermath of the Fukushima disaster, UN secretary general Ban Ki Moon called for an independent cost-benefit inquiry into uranium trade. The Australian government failed to act.

Inadequate regulation was a root cause of the Fukushima disaster yet Australia has uranium supply agreements with numerous countries with demonstrably inadequate nuclear regulation, including ChinaIndiaRussia, the United StatesJapanSouth Korea, and Ukraine.

Overthrow

Likewise, Australian uranium companies and the government turn a blind eye to nuclear corruption scandals in countries with uranium supply agreements: South Korea, India, Russia and Ukraine among others.

Indeed, Australia has signed up to expand its uranium trade to sell into insecure regions.

In 2011 ‒ the same year as the Fukushima disaster ‒ the Australian government agreed to allow uranium exports to India.

This despite inadequate nuclear regulation in India, and despite India’s ongoing expansion of its nuclear weaponry and delivery capabilities.

A uranium supply agreement with the United Arab Emirates was concluded in 2013 despite the obvious risks of selling uranium into a politically and militarily volatile region where nuclear facilities have repeatedly been targeted by adversaries intent on stopping covert nuclear weapons programs. Australia was planning uranium sales to the Shah of Iran months before his overthrow in 1979.

Forced labour

A uranium supply agreement with Ukraine was concluded in 2016 despite a host of safety and security concerns, and the inability of the International Atomic Energy Agency to carry out safeguards inspections in regions annexed by Russia.

In 2014, Australia banned uranium sales to Russia, with then prime minister Tony Abbott stating: “Australia has no intention of selling uranium to a country which is so obviously in breach of international law as Russia currently is.”

Australia’s uranium supply agreement with China, concluded in 2006, has not been reviewed despite abundant evidence of inadequate nuclear safety standards, inadequate regulation, lack of transparency, repression of whistleblowers, world’s worst insurance and liability arrangements, security risks, and widespread corruption.

Civil society and NGO’s are campaigning to wind back Australia’s atomic exposures in the uranium trade with emphasis on uranium sales to China.

China’s human rights abuses and a range of strategic insecurity issues warrant a cessation of uranium sales. China’s ongoing human rights abuses in Tibet and mass detention and forced labour against Uyghurs in Xinjiang are severe breaches of international humanitarian law and UN Treaties.

Weapons


China proliferated nuclear weapons know-how to Pakistan, targets Australia in cyber-attacks, and is causing regional insecurity on the India border, in Hong Kong and Taiwan, and in the Pacific.

BHP’s Olympic Dam is the only company still selling Australian uranium into China. There is a case for the ‘Big Australian’ to forego uranium sales overall and an onus to end sales to China.

A federal Parliamentary Inquiry in Australia is investigating forced labour in China and the options for Australia to respond. A case is before this inquiry to disqualify China from supply of Australian uranium sales  – see submission 02 on human rights abuses and submission 02.1 on security risks.

Australia supplies uranium with scant regard for nuclear safety risks. Likewise, proliferation risks are given short shrift.

Australia has uranium export agreements with all of the ‘declared’ nuclear weapons states – the US, UK, China, France, Russia – although not one of them takes seriously its obligation under the Non-Proliferation Treaty to pursue disarmament in good faith.

Carte blanche


Australia claims to be working to discourage countries from producing fissile – explosive – material for nuclear bombs, but nonetheless exports uranium to countries blocking progress on the proposed Fissile Material Cut-Off Treaty.

And Australia gives Japan open-ended permission to separate and stockpile plutonium although that stockpiling fans regional proliferation risks and tensions in North-East Asia.

Despite liberal export policies, Australian uranium sales are in long-term decline and now represent only 8.9 percent of world uranium usage.

With the Ranger mine shut down and no longer processing ore for uranium exports, there are only two operating uranium mines in Australia: BHP’s Olympic Dam copper-uranium mine and the smaller General Atomics’ Beverley Four Mile operation ‒ both in South Australia.

Uranium accounts for less than 0.3 percent of Australia’s export revenue and less than 0.1 percent of all jobs in Australia.

One wonders why an industry that delivers so little is given carte blanche by the government to do as it pleases.

These Authors Dr Jim Green is the national nuclear campaigner with Friends of the Earth Australia. David Noonan is an independent environment campaigner. For further information on BHP’s Olympic Dam mine click here.

Australia dodged a bullet in not getting nuclear power – Ian Lowe

April 5, 2021

An obvious conclusion flows from the Fox Report’s 1976 comment about a lack of objectivity. We are not objective observers of the world: we all see reality through the lenses of our values and our experience. We all have a tendency to see what we would like to see…….

The probability that any person will be favourably disposed to the idea of nuclear power can be predicted from their values and from their view of the sort of future they would like to see. Fellows of the Academy of Technology and Engineering tend to favour a high-tech future, while conservationists are much more likely to favour small-­scale local supply systems.

This is a reminder that the future is not somewhere we are going, but something we are creating. From my perspective, nuclear power now looks like an intractable problem we were just lucky to avoid. Most developed nations have nuclear power stations with mountains of accumulated waste, for which there is no effective permanent solution. The urgent task of moving to clean energy supply, mostly from solar and wind, is made more difficult when resources have been sunk into the nuclear power industry. I believe we dodged a bullet.

A long half-­life,  Nuclear energy in Australia,   https://www.griffithreview.com/articles/a-long-half-life/ Griffith Review,by Ian Lowe, March 21, ON MY DESK there sits a well-­thumbed copy of the 1976 Fox Report, the first report of the Ranger Uranium Environmental Inquiry. I grew up in New South Wales, where most electricity came from coal-­fired power stations, but miners were often killed or injured and the air pollution from burning coal was obvious. So as a young scientist I was attracted to the idea of replacing our dirty and dangerous coal-­fired electricity with nuclear power.

*** That report changed my thinking. And the sight of it is a reminder that while Australia has a very long history of involvement in nuclear issues, it’s one of the few advanced countries that does not have nuclear power stations. It would now be very difficult to make a rational case for taking that step, but a small group of pro-­nuclear enthusiasts continues to urge greater Australian involvement in the so-­called nuclear fuel cycle.

*** I want to summarise the history of this enthusiasm and use it to explore the continuing interest in that deeper involvement – because nuclear issues have always been intensely political. In practice, debates about nuclear energy are essentially arguments about what sort of future we want. Uranium ore was discovered at a remote site in the north-­east of South Australia in 1906. The prospector thought he had found a deposit that would yield tin or tungsten, but the young geologist Douglas Mawson showed the ore contained uranium and radium. He named the site Radium Hill, and its mine operated from 1906 to 1914, from 1923 to 1931, and again from 1954 to 1961. In the middle of this came the Manhattan Project, the secret research conducted during World War II to develop nuclear weapons, which changed the world forever.

*** When the US declined to share its frightening new bomb with the UK, the British government urged Australia to provide uranium for its own separate clandestine weapons program. At the same time, as a public-relations exercise, the UK government decided to use the Calder Hall reactor in West Cumbria – designed to produce plutonium for the British bomb – to generate a small amount of electricity: the newly installed Queen Elizabeth II formally turned it on. The US was also singing the praises of nuclear energy as a potential power source through its ‘Atoms for Peace’ program. This was a radical reframing of nuclear science, until then known only to the public as the basis for fearsome weapons, but now being portrayed as a possible source of unlimited clean energy.

*** When Prime Minister Robert Menzies opened a uranium mine at Rum Jungle in the Northern Territory in 1953, he too invoked energy supply as he gave a misleading slant to the operation. This ore body, he said, ‘can and will within a measurable distance bring power and light and the amenities of life to the producers and consumers and the housewives of this continent’. That never happened; the ore simply enabled the UK government to design and build its nuclear weapons and then test them at three sites in remote parts of Australia.

*** Three scientists who were centrally involved in both closed-­door discussions and public debates about nuclear issues in Australia had been central figures in the Manhattan Project. Mark Oliphant – a researcher in Ernest Rutherford’s famous Cambridge group that developed the basic physics later used to design and build the first bombs – returned to Australia after World War II to head the physics department at the newly established Australian National University (ANU). While an academic in England, he had supervised the research of Ernest Titterton, who triggered the Trinity test at Los Alamos in July 1945, the world’s first nuclear explosion. After helping to develop the British bomb, Titterton became the foundation professor of nuclear physics at ANU and was a member of Australia’s Atomic Weapons Tests Safety Committee, charged with assuring the government that the British tests were not a risk to Australian people. It later transpired that there had been serious impacts on local Indigenous people and, on one occasion, a wind change caused a cloud of radioactive debris to drift over a number of South Australian settlements. Titterton became a prominent advocate for Australia using nuclear power and developing nuclear weapons.

*** This was also true of the third central figure in this field, Philip Baxter. He was a chemical engineer working for ICI when he was asked in 1940 to produce quantities of uranium hexafluoride ‘for research’. He worked at the Oak Ridge laboratory in Tennessee, helping with the bomb project, and after the war was instrumental in designing and building the plant to separate plutonium for the British bomb. Arriving in Australia in the early 1950s, he was appointed deputy chair of the Australian Atomic Energy Commission (AAEC) when it was established in November 1952.

*** When the Menzies government approved the Commission’s proposal to build a small nuclear reactor at Lucas Heights, then a remote bushland site well outside the suburban area of Sydney, it also expected the AAEC to develop the expertise that would allow Australia to build nuclear power stations. Baxter became chairman of the AAEC in 1956, by which time he was also director of a new tertiary institution, the New South Wales Institute of Technology. Under his direction its status was soon raised and it became the New South Wales University of Technology, specialising in applied sciences and engineering, before expanding in 1958 to become the University of New South Wales. The AAEC, under Baxter’s chairmanship, built the HIFAR reactor at Lucas Heights and explored two possible designs for power reactors: high-­temperature gas-­cooled reactors or liquid-­metal-­fuelled reactors. As it turned out, neither became commercially successful.

*** Baxter and Titterton, both knighted for their services to atomic science, were also both prominent advocates of nuclear power for Australia. In an extraordinary comment, Baxter described Australia in 1957 as ‘the last big continent which the white man has to develop and populate. It will be a difficult task, but the full use of atomic energy should make it both easier and more certain.’ At that time, there was a widespread acceptance that nuclear power would displace coal-­fired power stations to become the main source of electricity. In 1969, Baxter confidently estimated that Australia would have 44,000 megawatts of installed nuclear power by the year 2000. To put that figure in perspective, the 2020 maximum demand in the national electricity system was just over 35,000 megawatts.

*** Electricity supply in Australia was then operated by state and local governments; Brisbane City Council, for example, ran two power stations to provide for the city’s needs. The South Australian premier, Thomas Playford, proposed building a nuclear power station near Port Augusta, while Queensland’s Joh Bjelke-­Petersen said he would be keen to use nuclear energy as long as the power station was not in his state.

*** When no state proved willing to risk the large capital expense of a nuclear power station, Baxter persuaded the Gorton government to propose building a 500-­megawatt reactor on Commonwealth land at Jervis Bay, on the New South Wales south coast. While the plan was deferred when Gorton was displaced as prime minister by Bill McMahon, Baxter still believed ‘Australia would certainly begin building nuclear power stations within the next ten years.’ The Jervis Bay project was subsequently terminated by the Whitlam government, and there was no serious proposal to consider nuclear power for several decades after that. With plentiful cheap coal in the eastern states, there was little political interest in this more complex technology.

*** The public debate about nuclear issues took a new turn in the 1970s. While relatively small mines at Rum Jungle and the Queensland site of Mary Kathleen had been quietly supplying uranium for British bomb production, the discovery of a large deposit of uranium ore in the Kakadu area of the Northern Territory prompted the Whitlam government to hold a public inquiry into the possible environmental impacts of the proposed new mine. This was the Ranger environmental inquiry, conducted by Justice Fox, Dr Kelleher and Professor Kerr. It almost inevitably broadened into a study of Australia’s role in the wider nuclear industry. As already mentioned, their first report is still on my desk.

*** My first academic appointment was in the Faculty of Technology at the UK Open University, where some of my colleagues were raising important questions about the safety and economics of British nuclear power stations. Others were asking more fundamental questions about the long-­term problems of managing radioactive waste and avoiding nuclear war. The long arguments with my respected colleagues shifted my thinking from enthusiastic support of nuclear energy to a more nuanced position, still cautiously in favour of replacing coal-fired power stations but acutely aware of the need to manage the long-­term problems. When I returned to Australia for a six-­month appointment at Griffith University in 1977, the Fox Report had just been published, and I was drawn into the resulting discussion of its findings. *** The report questioned the widely assumed objectivity of science, noting that ‘many wildly exaggerated statements’ had been made about the risks of nuclear energy, and adding: ‘What has surprised us more is a lack of objectivity in not a few of those in favour of it, including distinguished scientists.’ It went on to say that those involved in nuclear energy had ‘painted excessively optimistic pictures’ of performance and safety: Titterton, for example, had described nuclear energy as ‘the cheapest, safest and cleanest means of power production yet devised’. The report also commented that some of those who supported nuclear energy had questioned the motives of critics. Baxter had dismissed opponents of nuclear energy as ‘a small, well-­funded, vocal minority’ who used ‘a mixture of untruthful and hysterical statements, emotionally concocted to frighten the lay public’. He later went even further, claiming, ‘The Australian anti-­nuclear conspiracy is a political thing with links to international communism and the general motive of reducing the economic and military strength of the West.’ While some of the opposition to nuclear energy was political, there is no evidence that it was either well-­funded or linked to international communism.

*** The Fox Report found that the proposed expansion of uranium exports raised two important issues: the potential for fissile material to be used to produce nuclear weapons and the need to manage the radioactive waste from reactors. ‘The nuclear power industry is unintentionally contributing to the risk of nuclear war,’ it said, recommending that uranium exports should be strictly controlled to prevent weapons proliferation. It also noted that the 1976 Flowers Report from the UK Royal Commission on Environmental Pollution had argued that development of nuclear power should be limited until it had been demonstrated that radioactive waste could be ‘safely contained for the indefinite future’.

*** The Fox Report sparked vigorous debate in Australia, with community groups sponsoring public discussions. I remember a panel one Friday night in the town hall at Nambour, a small town in the Sunshine Coast hinterland, where a public meeting had been convened by their Apex Club. About 200 people turned up to witness a debate that became quite heated. I was vigorously attacked when I quoted from the UK nuclear industry house journal to show that the uranium mining representatives were lying to the meeting.

*** There was also division within the ALP. In a precursor of the contemporary differences about the Adani mine, those on the left of the party mostly opposed the mining and export of uranium, while those on the right supported the potential jobs that would be created. In 1977, the ALP national conference adopted a policy opposing expansion of uranium mining. But the Whitlam government, which began the inquiry, had been removed from office in 1975. Under Malcolm Fraser, the Coalition government was enthusiastic to see the Ranger mine go ahead and actively encouraged other possible export ventures. Fraser tried to elevate the program to a moral issue, claiming ‘an energy-­starved world’ needed our uranium. He also stated that the waste problem had been solved. That was a barefaced lie. Since it was not prudent for a young scientist to accuse the prime minister of lying, I pointedly described it instead as ‘a very modest announcement of a great scientific advance’. Of course, the problem had not been solved; over forty years later, it is still an issue. Huge volumes of nuclear waste are stockpiled at power stations around the world. Sweden and Finland have adopted a good process of community involvement and are well on the way to a potential solution involving storage in deep underground repositories – but the issue remains contentious everywhere else.

*** The South Australian government was also under pressure to approve the development of a major copper mine at Roxby Downs that would also produce uranium. In one of his last acts as premier before illness forced him to resign in 1979, Don Dunstan said, ‘We simply cannot assure the people of SA that mining or treatment of uranium and the sale of uranium to a customer country is yet safe.’ That opposition remained ALP policy until 1983, when the newly elected Prime Minister Bob Hawke persuaded the party’s national conference that opposing the Roxby Downs mine would harm the party’s chances at the forthcoming South Australian state election. After an acrimonious debate, the ALP adopted its ‘three mines policy’, qualifying its overall opposition to uranium mining and export by allowing three large mines. Hawke laughed off journalists’ criticism of this obvious double standard.

*** IN SUBSEQUENT DECADES, Australia’s involvement in nuclear issues has been confined to exporting uranium and operating the Lucas Heights reactor. When HIFAR reached the end of its life, the government approved its replacement by the OPAL reactor, mainly used to produce radioactive isotopes for medical and industrial purposes. But there have been attempts to expand our nuclear role.

*** Cabinet documents released in 2003 revealed that the Queensland government had secretly sought Commonwealth support to build a uranium enrichment plant near Rockhampton thirty years earlier. The process of enrichment is used to provide the uranium needed for most power reactors. Natural uranium consists of two isotopes: small amounts of Uranium-235 with larger quantities of Uranium-238. The lighter isotope is much more radioactive, so separation processes are used to ‘enrich’ the uranium, increasing the ratio of Uranium-235 to Uranium-238. The techniques developed as part of the Manhattan Project are still used in this work, and they require enormous amounts of energy. The proposal put forward secretly in 1972 would have been the biggest industrial plant ever built in Queensland and would have cost a billion dollars in 1970s money. The plan had been quietly shelved after the election of the Whitlam government, but surfaced in a different form a decade later. An angry rally filled Caboolture Town Hall during the 1983 federal election campaign, when a leaked report showed that the Fraser government would support a uranium enrichment plant in that area if re-elected.

*** There have also been several proposals over the decades for Australia to store radioactive waste from offshore nuclear power stations. Our political and geological stability is seen to make us ideal for permanent disposal of this waste. As prime minister, Bob Hawke supported a plan by a company called Pangea to store waste in outback Western Australia. Later, in 2015, the South Australian government initiated a Royal Commission into the possibility the state could store waste from other countries. Its report argued that it would be a great economic opportunity for South Australia, but the proposal foundered when a 350-­person citizens’ jury opposed it. The fundamental problem was trust. The members of the jury effectively said they were not confident such a project would be responsibly managed by either a government agency or a private corporation. The jury also questioned the projected financial claims for the project; since there is no operating market for the services being discussed, the figures were inevitably rubbery.

*** This lack of trust is a fundamental problem for any project involving radiation. For over twenty years, the Commonwealth Government has tried to establish a repository to store low-­level radioactive waste: comparatively benign items such as gloves and other protective gear used in nuclear medicine. Despite clear assurances from experts, several communities have defeated proposals for waste-storage facilities. Low-­level waste remains in a wide variety of locations around the nation, including hospitals and university laboratories, still awaiting agreement on a possible site for a permanent storage facility.

*** The question of nuclear power stations was not seriously raised for more than thirty years after the Jervis Bay project was cancelled. A few advocates kept writing to newspapers, but the economic reality was that nuclear energy could not compete with coal-­fired power, while the 1979 Three Mile Island meltdown and the 1986 Chernobyl explosion discredited any claims of safety. A 1985 report by the Australian Science and Technology Council about nuclear science and technology said nothing about nuclear energy. It endorsed the proposal to rename the Atomic Energy Commission as the Australian Nuclear Science and Technology Organisation, recognising that its mission was no longer to provide the expertise for nuclear energy.

*** GLOBALLY, THE NUCLEAR power industry appeared dead in the water. After Chernobyl, political support in Europe evaporated. Planned reactors were deferred or cancelled, and the amount of nuclear power gradually declined. Then a small group in the UK came up with an idea to salvage the industry.

*** After decades of violently opposing environmental groups, they decided to conveniently accept the science of global climate change and proposed nuclear reactors as the low-­carbon power source the world needed. Concerned by this argument, I addressed the National Press Club in 2005 to remind Australian journalists of the case against nuclear energy. I argued that promoting nuclear power as the solution to climate change was like advocating smoking as a cure for obesity; the nuclear option would make it more difficult to move to the clean energy future that climate change demands. When asked why I was bothering, I said that I was worried that John Howard, then prime minister, might propose nuclear power as a distraction from his studied inaction on climate change.

*** My fears were well founded. In 2006, when his failure to respond to climate change became a political issue, Howard hastily set up an inquiry into the possibility of using nuclear energy to reduce the carbon footprint of our electricity industry. The process of assembling a group that the late comedian John Clarke described as ‘people who want nuclear power by Tuesday’ was so rushed that the taskforce was incomplete when Howard announced its formation to the media; it was several days before all the names could be revealed. Chaired by Dr Ziggy Switkowski, the group toured the world to find support for the idea of using nuclear energy. In a classic Freudian slip, the headline in The Australian acclaimed its 2007 final report as hailing ‘a glowing future’.

*** It put as good a case as it could, but the facts could not be fudged. This report accepted that both a carbon price and other forms of financial support would be required for a nuclear power station to be economically viable. It also conceded that it would take at least ten years and possibly fifteen to build one nuclear power station, given that Australia had neither the construction experience nor the regulatory structure that would be needed. Before the 2007 election, The Australia Institute mischievously released a map showing possible sites for a first nuclear power station, setting off a tsunami of panic among sitting MPs. That reaction showed there was little community support for nuclear energy.

*** The election that year of Kevin Rudd – who had described climate change as the greatest moral challenge of our time and promised Australia would finally ratify the Kyoto Protocol – effectively ended the debate about nuclear power. The following period of unprecedented political turmoil saw Julia Gillard replace Rudd as prime minister (the subsequent hung election leading to her negotiating a package of measures responding to climate change, including a carbon price) and Tony Abbott displace Malcolm Turnbull as leader of Liberal Party (and demonise the carbon price as ‘a great big tax on everything’). Abbott then won an election and wound back the national response to climate change – before being displaced as prime minister by Malcolm Turnbull, who was in turn himself displaced, after a disappointing result in the 2016 election, by supporters of Peter Dutton and Scott Morrison.

*** Perhaps to distract attention from its own inaction on climate change, the Morrison government started a parliamentary inquiry ‘into the prerequisites for nuclear energy in Australia’ in August 2019. I gave evidence, arguing that nuclear power does not make economic or political sense in twenty-­first century Australia.

*** The Australian Academy of Technology and Engineering had previously urged replacing coal-­fired power by nuclear energy; in this inquiry the academy argued that ‘development of a regulatory framework for nuclear fuel cycle activities without a clear business case would be a challenging exercise, and consume valuable policy and regulatory design resources that might otherwise be dedicated to more pressing challenges in energy policy’. The academy also contended that the legislative barriers that now exist should be removed ‘so that nuclear energy can be considered on its own merits’, while conceding that the cost-­effectiveness of the approach remains uncertain. In its final report, the parliamentary committee did not recommend adoption of nuclear power, but it did advocate repealing the current law that expressly forbids its use.

*** That raises the question I posed at the start of this essay. If there has never been hard evidence that nuclear power would be cost-­effective in Australia, why does it keep coming back into the debate?………….. An obvious conclusion flows from the Fox Report’s 1976 comment about a lack of objectivity. We are not objective observers of the world: we all see reality through the lenses of our values and our experience. We all have a tendency to see what we would like to see. I’m constantly struck by the optimism of football fans about their team’s prospects at the start of a new season, even if the players consist mostly of those who did poorly the season before. The probability that any person will be favourably disposed to the idea of nuclear power can be predicted from their values and from their view of the sort of future they would like to see. Fellows of the Academy of Technology and Engineering tend to favour a high-tech future, while conservationists are much more likely to favour small-­scale local supply systems.

*** This is a reminder that the future is not somewhere we are going, but something we are creating. From my perspective, nuclear power now looks like an intractable problem we were just lucky to avoid. Most developed nations have nuclear power stations with mountains of accumulated waste, for which there is no effective permanent solution. The urgent task of moving to clean energy supply, mostly from solar and wind, is made more difficult when resources have been sunk into the nuclear power industry. I believe we dodged a bullet.  

Assessing types of non-lightwater nuclear reactors

April 5, 2021

Assessing the Safety, Security, and Environmental Impacts of Non-Light-Water Nuclear Reactors, Union of Concerned Scientists, Edwin Lyman,  Mar 18, 2021

“Advanced” Isn’t Always Better

”………………..Assessments of NLWR Types

UCS has reviewed hundreds of documents in the available literature to assess the comparative risks and benefits of the three major categories of NLWR with respect to the three evaluation criteria (Table 2).

Sodium-Cooled Fast Reactors

Safety and Security Risk: SFRs have numerous safety problems that are not issues for LWRs. Sodium coolant can burn if exposed to air or water, and an SFR can experience rapid power increases that may be hard to control. It is even possible that an SFR core could explode like a small nuclear bomb under severe accident conditions. Of particular concern is the potential for a runaway power excursion: if the fuel overheats and the sodium coolant boils, an SFR’s power will typically increase rapidly rather than decrease, resulting in a positive feedback loop that could cause core damage if not quickly controlled.

Chernobyl Unit 4 in the former Soviet Union, although not a fast reactor, had a similar design flaw—known as a “positive void coefficient.” It was a major reason for the reactor’s catastrophic explosion in 1986. A positive void coefficient is decidedly not a passive safety feature—and it cannot be fully eliminated by design in commercial-scale SFRs. To mitigate these and other risks, fast reactors should have additional engineered safety systems that LWRs do not need, which increases capital cost.

Sustainability: Because of the properties of fast neutrons, fast reactors do offer, in theory, the potential to be more sustainable than LWRs by either using uranium more efficiently or reducing the quantity of TRU elements present in the reactor and its fuel cycle. This is the only clear advantage of fast reactors compared with LWRs. However once-through fast reactors such as the Natrium being developed by TerraPower, a company founded and supported by Bill Gates, would be less uranium-efficient than LWRs. To significantly increase sustainability, most fast reactors would require spent fuel reprocessing and recycling, and the reactors and associated fuel cycle facilities would need to operate continuously at extremely high levels of performance for many hundreds or even thousands of years. Neither government nor industry can guarantee that future generations will continue to operate and replace these facilities indefinitely. The enormous capital investment needed today to build such a system would only result in minor sustainability benefits over a reasonable timeframe.

Nuclear Proliferation/Terrorism: Historically, fast reactors have required plutonium or HEU-based fuels, both of which could be readily used in nuclear weapons and therefore entail unacceptable risks of nuclear proliferation and nuclear terrorism. Some SFR concepts being developed today utilize HALEU instead of plutonium and could operate on a once-through cycle. These reactors would pose lower proliferation and security risks than would plutonium-fueled fast reactors with reprocessing, but they would have many of the same safety risks as other SFRs. And, as pointed out, most once-through SFRs would actually be less sustainable than LWRs and thus unable to realize the SFR’s main benefit. For this reason, these once-through SFRs are likely to be “gateway” reactors that would eventually transition to SFRs with reprocessing and recycling. The only exceptions—if technically feasible—are once-through fast reactors operating in breed-and-burn mode. However, the only breed-and-burn reactor that has undergone significant R&D, TerraPower’s “traveling-wave reactor,” was recently suspended after more than a decade of work, suggesting that its technical challenges proved too great.

High-Temperature Gas-Cooled Reactors

Safety and Security Risk: HTGRs have some attractive safety features but also a number of drawbacks. Their safety is rooted in the integrity of TRISO fuel, which has been designed to function at the high normal operating temperature of an HTGR (up to 800ºC) and can retain radioactive fission products up to about 1,600ºC if a loss-of-coolant accident occurs. However, if the fuel heats up above that temperature—as it could in the Xe-100—its release of fission products speeds up significantly. So, while TRISO has some safety benefits, the fuel is far from meltdown-proof, as some claim. Indeed, a recent TRISO fuel irradiation test in the Advanced Test Reactor in Idaho had to be terminated prematurely when the fuel began to release fission products at a rate high enough to challenge off-site radiation dose limits.

The performance of TRISO fuel also depends critically on the ability to consistently manufacture fuel to exacting specifications, which has not been demonstrated. HTGRs are also vulnerable to accidents in which air or water leaks into the reactor; this is much less of a concern for LWRs. And the moving fuel in pebble-bed HTGRs introduces novel safety issues.

Despite these unknowns, HTGRs are being designed without the conventional leak-tight containments that LWRs have—potentially cancelling out any inherent safety benefits provided by the design and fuel. Given the uncertainties, much more testing and analysis are necessary to determine conclusively if HTGRs would be significantly safer than LWRs.

Sustainability: HTGRs are less sustainable than LWRs overall. They use uranium no more efficiently due to their use of HALEU, and they generate a much larger volume of highly radioactive waste. Although pebble-bed HTGRs are somewhat more flexible and uranium-efficient than prismatic-block HTGRs, the difference is not enough to overcome the penalty from using HALEU fuel.

Nuclear Proliferation/Terrorism: HTGRs raise additional proliferation issues compared with LWRs. Current HTGR designs use HALEU, which poses a greater security risk than the LEU grade used by LWRs, and TRISO fuel fabrication is more challenging to monitor than LWR fuel fabrication. Also, it is difficult to accurately account for nuclear material at pebble-bed HTGRs because fuel is continually fed into and removed from the reactor as it operates. On the other hand, it may be more difficult for a proliferator to reprocess TRISO spent fuel than LWR spent fuel to extract fissile material because the required chemical processes are less mature.

Molten Salt-Fueled Reactors

Safety and Security Risk: MSR advocates point to the fact that this type of reactor cannot melt down—the fuel is already molten. However, this simplistic argument belies the fact that MSR fuels pose unique safety issues. Not only is the hot liquid fuel highly corrosive, but it is also difficult to model its complex behavior as it flows through a reactor system. If cooling is interrupted, the fuel can heat up and destroy an MSR in a matter of minutes. Perhaps the most serious safety flaw is that, in contrast to solid-fueled reactors, MSRs routinely release large quantities of gaseous fission products, which must be trapped and stored. Some released gases quickly decay into troublesome radionuclides such as cesium-137— the highly radioactive isotope that caused persistent and extensive environmental contamination following the Chernobyl and Fukushima nuclear accidents.

Sustainability: A main argument for MSRs is that they are more flexible and can operate more sustainably than reactors using solid fuel. In theory, some MSRs would be able to use natural resources more efficiently than LWRs and generate lower amounts of long-lived nuclear waste. However, the actual sustainability improvements for a range of thermal and fast MSR designs are too small, even with optimistic performance assumptions, to justify their high safety and security risks.

Nuclear Proliferation/Terrorism: MSRs present unique challenges for nuclear security because it would be very difficult to account for nuclear material accurately as the liquid fuel flows through the reactor. In addition, some designs require on-site, continuously operating fuel reprocessing plants that could provide additional pathways for diverting or stealing nuclear-weapon-usable materials.

MSRs could also endanger global nuclear security by interfering with the worldwide network of radionuclide monitors put into place to verify compliance with the Comprehensive Nuclear Test Ban Treaty after it enters into force.5 MSRs release vast quantities of the same radioactive xenon isotopes that are signatures of clandestine nuclear explosions—an issue that MSR developers do not appear to have addressed. It is unclear whether it would be feasible or affordable to trap and store these isotopes at MSRs to the degree necessary to avoid degrading the effectiveness of the monitoring system to detect treaty violations.

Safely Commercializing NLWRs: Timelines and Costs

Can NLWRs be deployed quickly enough to play a significant role in reducing carbon emissions and avoiding the worst effects of climate change? The 2018 special report of the UN’s Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change identified 85 energy supply pathways to 2050 capable of achieving the Paris Agreement target of limiting global mean temperature rise to 1.5°C. The median capacity of nuclear power in 2050 across those pathways is about 150 percent over the 2020 level. Taking into account planned retirements, this corresponds to the equivalent of at least two dozen 1,000 MWe reactors coming online globally each year between now and 2050— five times the recent global rate of new LWR construction. If the world must wait decades for NLWRs to be commercially available, they would have to be built even faster to fill the gap by 2050.

Some developers of NLWRs say that they will be able to meet this challenge by deploying their reactors commercially as soon as the late 2020s. However, such aggressive timelines are inconsistent with the recent experience of new reactors such as the Westinghouse AP1000, an evolutionary LWR. Although the AP1000 has some novel features, its designers leveraged many decades of LWR operating data. Even so, it took more than 30 years of research, development, and construction before the first AP1000—the Sanmen Unit 1 reactor in China—began to produce power in 2018.

How, then, could less-mature NLWR reactors be commercialized so much faster than the AP1000? At a minimum, commercial deployment in the 2020s would require bypassing two developmental stages that are critical for assuring safety and reliability: the demonstration of prototype reactors at reduced scale and at full scale. Prototype reactors are typically needed for demonstrating performance and conducting safety and fuel testing to address knowledge gaps in new reactor designs. Prototypes also may have additional safety features and instrumentation not included in the basic design, as well as limits on operation that would not apply to commercial units.

By a 2017 report, the DOE asserted that SFRs and HTGRs were mature enough for commercial demonstrations without the need for additional prototype testing. For either of these types, the DOE estimated it would cost approximately $4 billion and take 13 to 15 years to complete a first commercial demonstration unit, assuming that reactor construction and startup testing take seven years. After five years of operating the demonstration unit, additional commercial units could follow in the mid-2030s.

In contrast, for MSRs and other lower-maturity designs, the DOE report judged that both reduced-scale and full-scale prototypes (which the report referred to as “engineering” and “performance” demonstrations, respectively) would be needed before a commercial demonstration reactor could be built. These additional stages could add $2 billion to $4 billion to the cost and 20 years to the development timeline. The subsequent commercial demonstration would not begin until 2040; reactors would not be available for sale until the mid-2040s or even the 2050s.

In May 2020, after receiving $160 million in initial congressional funding for the new Advanced Reactor Demonstration Program (ARDP), the DOE issued a solicitation for two “advanced” commercial demonstration reactors. In October 2020, the DOE chose SFR and HTGR designs—as one might expect given its 2017 technology assessment. The DOE estimates that these projects will cost up to $3.2 billion each (with the vendors contributing 50 percent) for the reactors and their supporting fuel facilities. The department is requiring that the reactors be operational within seven years, a timeline—including NRC licensing, construction, fuel production, and startup testing—that it acknowledges is very aggressive.

However, even if this deadline can be met and the reactors work reliably, subsequent commercial units likely would not be ordered before the early 2030s. Moreover, it is far from certain that the two designs the DOE selected for the ARDP are mature enough for commercial demonstration. Past demonstrations of both SFRs and HTGRs have encountered safety and reliability problems. Additionally, for both reactor types, the DOE has chosen designs that differ significantly from past demonstration reactors.

In the 1990s, the NRC concluded that it would require information from representative prototype testing prior to licensing either of these reactor types—but no prototypes were ever built. More recently, in a letter to the NRC, the agency’s independent Advisory Committee on Reactor Safeguards reaffirmed the importance of prototypes in new reactor development. Nevertheless, the NRC—a far weaker regulator today—has apparently changed its position and may proceed with licensing the ARDP demonstration reactors without requiring prototype testing first. But by skipping prototype testing and proceeding directly to commercial units, these projects may run not only the risk of experincing unanticipated reliability problems, but also the risk of suffering serious accidents that could endanger public health and safety.

An additional challenge for NLWR demonstrations and subsequent commercial deployment is the availability of fuels for those reactors, which would differ significantly from the fuel that today’s LWRs use. Even a single small reactor could require a few tons of HALEU per year—far more than the 900 kilograms per year projected to be available over the next several years from a DOE-funded pilot enrichment plant that Centrus Energy Corporation is building in Piketon, Ohio. It is far from clear whether that pilot will succeed and can be scaled up in time to support the two NLWR demonstrations by 2027, not to mention the numerous other HALEU-fueled reactor projects that have been proposed……. https://ucsusa.org/resources/advanced-isnt-always-better#read-online-content

Tokyo’s ”Recovery Olympics”? But Japan has not recovered from the Fukushima nuclear meltdown

April 5, 2021

Japan Hasn’t Recovered 10 Years After Fukushima Meltdown, https://truthout.org/articles/japan-hasnt-recovered-10-years-after-fukushima-meltdown/,  Arnie Gundersen, -March 11, 2021  

On March 11, 2011, a devastating offshore earthquake and ensuing tsunami rocked Japan and resulted in nuclear meltdowns in three nuclear reactors at the Fukushima Daiichi nuclear site. Until the 2020 Tokyo Olympics were placed on a one-year hiatus because of concerns over COVID-19, the Japanese government had portrayed these events as the “Recovery Olympics.” It had hoped to use the Olympics to showcase a claimed restoration of Japan since it was devastated in 2011. But has Japan really “recovered?”Recently, corresponding author Marco Kaltofen (Worcester Polytechnic Institute), co-author Maggie Gundersen (Fairewinds Energy Education) and I published our second peer-reviewed journal article analyzing hundreds of radioactive samples from northern Japan that we collected with assistance from Japanese citizens and scientists. Our sampling on five occasions over almost a decade totaled 70 days on the ground. Here are four things we discovered.

1. Existing radiation maps ignore significant sources of radiological exposure.

Most of the radiation maps of northern Japan are based on external radiation detected in handheld instrument measurements by citizens and scientists, who then link the measurements to GPS coordinates while downloading that data into a massive database. This information about direct, external radiation is certainly important, but it has become the de facto criteria for decision makers in Japan to decide which cities and towns should be repopulated.

We found that this approach only provides limited policy alternatives and serves to minimize potential population exposure for two reasons. First, the Geiger counter data is for external radiation that was deposited on the ground external to human bodies and ignores radiation imbibed or inhaled as “hot particles” into the human body.

Secondly, the external radiation data frequently displayed for northern Japan is based on radiation emitted from only a single radioactive isotope, Cesium-137 (Cs-137), as measured externally. On the other hand, our papers show a wide variety of isotopes that are not detected by handheld Geiger counters or absorbed externally. We show that there is an extensive brew of various isotopes present in radioactive dust that is inhaled or imbibed. Our papers indicate that the radioactive concentration in these dust particles varies widely, by a factor of 1 million, with 5 percent (3 sigma) of these “hot particles” 10,000 times more radioactive than the mean. Our most radioactive dust particle was collected 300 miles from the site of the meltdown.

Furthermore, the data show that alpha, beta and gamma-emitting contaminants in radioactive fallout from the Daiichi meltdowns have not traveled together in lockstep. This means that measuring only beta-emitters like Cesium-137 or only total gamma (as you would with a Geiger counter) is not enough to map the full impact of the fallout. Alpha-emitters must also be measured to protect the public health. This is especially important because of the serious health impacts that can come from exposure to alpha radiation.

2. Northern Japan remains radiologically contaminated.

When a nuclear chain reaction stops, the hazardous remnants of the previously split uranium atoms, euphemistically called “fission products,” are left behind and remain radioactive for centuries. The triple meltdowns and explosions at Fukushima Daiichi Units 1, 2 and 3 in March 2011 released an enormous amount of these fission products into the environment. Wind currents pushed as much as 80 percent of this radiation over the Pacific Ocean, while 20 percent fell on northern Japan, forcing the evacuation of approximately 160,000 Japanese citizens from ancestral lands.

Absent any human intervention, short-lived fission products that originally accounted for more than half of this contamination have already decayed away during the last nine years, while even more has washed into the Pacific from storms and typhoons. Limited cleanup efforts by the Japanese government have further reduced the contamination in a fraction of the populated portion of the devastated Fukushima prefecture. Greater than 10 million tons of radioactive material have been collected and stored in 10 million individual large black bags at hundreds of locations. However, due to mountainous terrain, more than 70 percent of Fukushima prefecture will never be decontaminated.

Absent any human intervention, short-lived fission products that originally accounted for more than half of this contamination have already decayed away during the last nine years, while even more has washed into the Pacific from storms and typhoons. Limited cleanup efforts by the Japanese government have further reduced the contamination in a fraction of the populated portion of the devastated Fukushima prefecture. Greater than 10 million tons of radioactive material have been collected and stored in 10 million individual large black bags at hundreds of locations. However, due to mountainous terrain, more than 70 percent of Fukushima prefecture will never be decontaminated.

As the cost and effort to completely decontaminate the entire land mass of Fukushima prefecture would be prohibitive, the Japanese government has focused on cleaning only populated areas. It also increased the “allowable” radiation limit 20-fold, after an initial partial decontamination, from 1 milli-Sievert to 20 milli-Sieverts per year (100 millirem to 2 rem) to facilitate repopulation of abandoned villages. A 20-fold increase in radiation will create a 20-fold increase in radiation-induced cancers. A significant fraction of residents chose not to return, recognizing the increased risk that these higher approved limits present.

3. Previously “cleaned” areas are becoming radiologically contaminated yet again.

The city of Minamisoma was contaminated and evacuated at the height of the Fukushima disaster. After a period of several years, radiation in the city was remediated and citizens were allowed to return. Minamisoma City Hall was decontaminated, with a new epoxy roof applied after the meltdowns in 2011. The authors collected samples from this previously “clean” fourth-story roof in 2016 and again in 2017, finding high levels of alpha radiation in the relative absence of the normally ubiquitous Cesium isotopes. This can only imply that wind-borne contamination from uncleaned areas is recontaminating those areas determined habitable.

4. Olympic venues in Fukushima prefecture are more contaminated than in Tokyo Olympic venues.

Suburbs of Tokyo are approximately 120 miles from the reactors at Fukushima Daiichi. We found particulate radiation at Olympic venues in Tokyo to be normal compared to other cities worldwide. We found that areas in Japan beyond the Olympic venues were seven times more contaminated than the venues themselves. Contamination at the Olympic venues in Fukushima prefecture, planned to showcase the region’s recovery, were also more contaminated than the Tokyo venues. We found that on average, these northern Olympic venues were two to three times more contaminated with “hot particles” than venues in Tokyo.

We also detected small but statistically significant levels of plutonium at the J-Village national soccer camp in Fukushima prefecture. Even though the Japanese government claims to have thoroughly decontaminated these Fukushima locations, it is not surprising that these Olympic venues remain contaminated. As discussed previously, since the entirety of the prefecture’s area will never be decontaminated, these areas will continue to have wind-borne contamination for centuries.

Science on a Shoestring

As Fukushima was melting down, nuclear advocates in the U.S. were testifying to the Washington State legislature, saying that Japan’s nuclear plants would not be a problem, and that working in a nuclear plant is “safer than working in Toys R Us.” Not surprisingly, those same zealots are now claiming that there will be no increase in cancer fatalities as a result of the three Fukushima meltdowns. However, not including the hot particle contamination my colleagues and I have identified, the UN estimates that thousands of fatalities will occur. Others, including myself, believe the actual cancer increase could result in upwards of 100,000 increased deaths as a result of the radioactive microparticles strewn into the environment.

There is no doubt that radiological conditions in Japan have improved in the decade since the triple meltdowns at Fukushima Daiichi. However, our data show that Japan has not “recovered,” nor can it ever return to pre-meltdown norms. Public relations campaigns by interested parties cannot obscure the recontamination of populated areas in northern Japan that will continue to occur.

Hasegawa, the former head of Maeda Ward in Fukushima prefecture at the time of the Fukushima disaster, sums up the sentiment of most of Japanese citizens in northern Japan: “The nuclear plant took everything.… We are just in the way of the Olympics. In the end, the radiation-affected places like us are just in the way. They are going ahead just wanting to get rid of these places from Japan, to forget.”

There is an old laboratory adage that says, “The best way to clean up a spill is not to have a spill,” and this applies on a much larger scale to the entirety of northern Japan, where cleanup will remain economically unfeasible. Our future plans to further support our hypothesis that Japan remains contaminated will involve testing the shoestrings of Olympic athletes and visitors to northern Japan. Shoestrings are useful, as their woven fabric traps dust which may assist in determining the extent of contamination into populated areas in northern Japan compared to that in Tokyo.

Japan’s Nuclear Clean-Up Has No End in Sight

April 5, 2021

Climbing Without a Map: Japan’s Nuclear Clean-Up Has No End in Sight, U.S. News, By Reuters, Wire Service Content March 12, 2021,   BY SAKURA MURAKAMI AND Aaron Sheldrick TOKYO (Reuters) – For one minute this week, workers at the Fukushima nuclear station fell silent to mark the 10-year anniversary of a natural disaster that triggered the worst nuclear accident since Chernobyl.

Then they went back to work tearing down the reactors melted down in the days after a tsunami on March 11, 2011.

The job ranks as the most expensive and dangerous nuclear clean-up ever attempted. A decade in, an army of engineers, scientists and 5,000 workers are still mapping out a project many expect will not be completed in their lifetime.

Naoaki Okuzumi, the head of research at Japan’s lead research institute on decommissioning, compares the work ahead to climbing a mountain range – without a map.

“The feeling we have is, you think the summit’s right there, but then you reach it and can see another summit, further beyond,” Okuzumi told Reuters.

Okuzumi and others need to find a way to remove and safely store 880 tonnes of highly radioactive uranium fuel along with a larger mass of concrete and metal into which fuel melted a decade ago during the accident.

The robotic tools to do the job don’t yet exist. There is no plan for where to put the radioactive material when it is removed.

Japan’s government says the job could run 40 years. Outside experts say it could take twice as long, pushing completion near the close of the century……..

It wasn’t until 2017 that engineers understood how complicated the clean-up would become. By that point, five specially designed robots had been dispatched through the dark, contaminated waters pumped in to cool the uranium. But radiation zapped their electronics.

One robot developed by Toshiba Corp, nicknamed the “little sunfish”, a device about the size of a loaf of bread, provided an early glimpse of the chaotic damage around the cores.

Kenji Matsuzaki, a robot technician at Toshiba who led development of the “sunfish”, had assumed that they would find melted fuel at the bottom of the reactors.

But the sunfish’s first video images showed a tumult of destruction, with overturned structures inside the reactor, clumps of unrecognizable brown debris and dangerously radioactive metal.

“I expected it to be broken, but I didn’t expect it would be this bad,” Matsuzaki said.

The delivery of a robotic arm to start removing fuel, developed in a $16 million programme with the UK’s Nuclear Decommissioning Authority, has been delayed until 2022. Tepco plans to use it to grab some debris from inside reactor 2 for testing and to help plan the main operation………….

But the cleanup has been delayed by the buildup of contaminated water in tanks that crowd the site. The melted cores are kept cool by pumping water into damaged reactor vessels.

But the cleanup has been delayed by the buildup of contaminated water in tanks that crowd the site. The melted cores are kept cool by pumping water into damaged reactor vessels.  https://www.usnews.com/news/world/articles/2021-03-12/climbing-without-a-map-japans-nuclear-clean-up-has-no-end-in-sight

Harm done to people by the Fukushima evacuation, but radiation was still the root cause of all this

April 5, 2021

The Lancet 6th March 2021, “The evacuation was the biggest risk factor in impacting health”, said Masaharu Tsubokura, an expert in radiation health management at Fukushima Medical University. “But [the evacuation] was inevitable, so I’m not saying that it was the wrong choice”, he added. He describes the tsunami-hit region of northeast Japan as a case study in the myriad health issues arising from natural disasters—an interplay between non-communicable diseases, the effect on mental and physical health of sudden upheaval, family separation, and the struggle to provide nursing care in ageing communities that hold little appeal for younger people, including health-care staff, who are worried about radiation and lack of job opportunities.

The evacuation was the most effective way to reduce exposure, Tsubokura said, but added that it had also had the biggest effect on mid-term and long-term health outcomes by exacerbating chronic and non-communicable diseases, notably diabetes, obesity, and impaired bone health and motor function. “Some might say that medically, these are not related to radiation”, he said, “but I would say that in the secondary sense, everything has a connection to radiation”. Evacuees with the financial means fanned out across Japan, with some seeking refuge as far away as Okinawa, more than 1000 miles to the south. Many others moved to temporary housing or found rented accommodation in parts of Fukushima that were considered a safe distance from the stricken plant. Following a ¥2·9 trillion (£19 billion) operation to remove millions of cubic metres of contaminated topsoil from areas near private homes, schools, and other essential public buildings, the government began lifting evacuation orders in 2015. Yet even now, several neighbourhoods located near Fukushima Daiichi remain no-go zones because of radiation levels above 20 mSv a year—the maximum exposure recommended by the International Commission on Radiological Protection. Japan raised acceptable levels of radiation for Fukushima residents to 20 mSv per year from 1 mSv per year, although the country insists that 1 mSv remains the long-term goal. Shaun Burnie, a senior nuclear specialist with Greenpeace Germany, and Ian Fairlie, an independent consultant on radioactivity in the environment, are among those who have challenged the IAEA’s conclusion, pointing to the lack of comprehensive exposure data from the initial days of the crisis.

Burnie and Fairlie cite a 2019 study led by Hidehiko Yamamoto of Osaka Red Cross Hospital that concludes “the radiation contamination due to the Fukushima nuclear power plant accidents is positively associated with the thyroidcancer detection rate in children and adolescents. This corroborates previous studies providing evidence for a causal relation between nuclear accidents and the subsequent occurrence of thyroid cancer”. Burnie said, “The extent to which the current thyroid rates are due to radiation exposure is not proven. However, given the uncertainties, including dose data, it is not credible to dismiss an association between iodine exposure and the higher incidence of thyroid cancer. The authorities need to continue screening and prioritise other physical and mental health issuesarising from displacement and evacuation, as well as monitor people who have returned”. https://www.thelancet.com/journals/lancet/article/PIIS0140-6736(21)00560-2/fulltext

The truth about Fukushima today – and the cover-up – Thomas A Bass

April 5, 2021

Fukushima today: “I’m glad that I realized my mistake before I died.”   Bulletin of the Atomic Scientists,  By Thomas A. Bass | March 10, 2021After the nuclear disaster at Fukushima, evacuees were put in what was supposed to be temporary housing built in parking lots and fields on the outskirts of inland towns. These metal structures were measured by the size of Japan’s traditional tatami sleeping mats, typically about 36 by 71 inches. T

Takenori and Tomoko Kobayashi lived in an eight-tatami-mat house for the next five years—nuclear refugees inhabiting 132 square feet of living space.

In 2016, Mr. and Mrs. Kobayashi were allowed to return to their former home in Odaka, a village on the edge of Fukushima’s 20-kilometer exclusion zone, where Tomoko is a third-generation innkeeper. Owner of a small ryokan—a traditional Japanese hotel with common baths and a dining room holding a long table for family and guests—she invited volunteers to help her scrub down the inn, plant flowers along the roadside, open a gift shop, and rescue some of the area’s famous “samurai horses,” which are now branded with the white mark that labels radioactive livestock.

A. The operator of the plant, the Tokyo Electric Power Company, or TEPCO, evacuated its workers from F1 and ordered the site abandoned. The Japanese prime minister, in a dawn visit to TEPCO headquarters in Tokyo, effectively seized the company and demanded that they keep working. As a result, a suicide squad of older workers struggled to contain the disaster. Known as the “Fukushima Fifty” (which actually numbered 69) they tried to cool the reactors with fire trucks brought from Tokyo, 140 miles to the south. The command center for managing the disaster was moved to J-Village.

No one can say with 100-percent certainty the amount of radiation that came from Fukushima, since most of this radiation has been carried eastward into the ocean. At the high end, Fukushima may be worse than Chernobyl in terms of global contamination. At the low end, the Nuclear Energy Institute estimates that Fukushima’s release is one-tenth that of the accident at Chernobyl—which is estimated to have scattered between 50 and 200 million curies of radiation over Russia and Central Europe says Kate Brown, the MIT historian who published a book on Chernobyl in 2019. (One curie equals 37 billion becquerels, the standard unit of measurement for radioactive decays per second.) To give a sense of scale, this amount of radiation is the equivalent of what would have been emitted by at least 400 Hiroshima bombs, according to the International Atomic Energy Agency. As Nobel laureate Kenzaburō Ōe says of the Fukushima disaster, unlike Hiroshima and Nagasaki, this time Japan bombed itself.

Compounding the problem, most of Fukushima’s dosimeters were swept away in the flood or knocked offline. Readings from US military planes flying overhead and ships sailing offshore differed dramatically from those reported by TEPCO. The same is true for spot readings of air and soil samples around the plant………..

F1’s reactors are still radioactively hot. They are lethal to humans who approach them and even the robots sent to explore the melting cores are quickly fried; in 2017, TEPCO lost two robots in two weeks. But some of the nuclear exclusion zone has been re-opened—at least officially—to resettlement, and the Japanese government is paying two million yen (about $20,000) to people who move into the area. Ouside the core but still in the zone. An army of about 100,000 workers has spent a decade scraping up and bagging radioactively contaminated soil. Consequently, what were once the emerald green rice paddies of Fukushima’s coastal plain are now filled with black plastic garbage bags holding mountains of radioactive dirt…………..

casual attitude toward radiation is widespread. “We found a disregard for global trends and a disregard for public safety,” said the parliamentary report on the Fukushima disaster, known as The Official Report of The Fukushima Nuclear Accident Independent Investigation Commission. “Across the board, the commission found ignorance and arrogance unforgivable for anyone or any organization that deals with nuclear power,” the report’s authors concluded.

They went on to note: “What must be admitted—very painfully—is this was a disaster ‘Made in Japan.’

” If Japan covered up the risks involved in building 54 nuclear reactors on its geologically unstable shores, it is now covering up the consequences. A government-sponsored study of radiation exposure in Fukushima prefecture undercounted people’s exposure by two-thirds. Australian physician Tilman Ruff, co-founder of the International Campaign to Abolish Nuclear Weapons (which won the 2017 Nobel Peace Prize), wrote me to say that doctors have left the area because the government refuses to reimburse them when they list radiation sickness as the cause for nose bleeds, spontaneous abortions, and other ailments resulting from ionizing radiation. (The only acceptable diagnoses are so-called “radiophobia,” nervousness, and stress.) The spike in thyroid cancer among children in Fukushima is dismissed as a survey error, produced by examining too many children.

The government has mounted no epidemiological study in Fukushima. It has established no baseline for comparing public health before and after the disaster. Instead, it has greenlighted the use of radioactive ash and soil from Fukushima in construction projects throughout the country, the Japan Times reported.

The generally accepted safety standard for radiation exposure is one milliSievert, or one-thousandth of a Sievert, per year. Different countries have different standards, but in the United States, the Nuclear Regulatory Commission requires that the operators of nuclear power plants limit the amount of their incidental radiation exposure to individual members of the public to 1 milliSievert (1,000 microSieverts) per year above the average annual background radiation, and this figure has become a sort of rough international average benchmark. (For comparison’s sake, the natural level of background radiation usually averages in the range of up to as much as 3 milliSieverts annually.)

But in its haste to deal with the Fukushima emergency in the months after the accident, the Japanese government simply raised the limit of what was considered an acceptable amount of incidental radiation coming from the now-defunct nuclear power plant. The Japanese government now allows individuals in Fukushima prefecture to be exposed to 20 milliSieverts per year of incidental radiation, above and beyond what was emitted naturally, reported Scientific American. Figures like these are a far cry from that international average benchmark of 1 milliSievert annually.

To give a sense of scale, a figure in the 20 milliSieverts range means that a schoolchild in Fukushima can be exposed to the same amount of radiation as the average adult working full-time in a nuclear power plant.

The limit in the rest of Japan, outside of Fukushima’s environs, remains 1 milliSievert per year.

21st-century versions of hibakusha, or “bomb-affected people”? Anyone objecting to Fukushima’s 20-fold increase in allowable radiation exposure is criticized for promoting “harmful rumors.” After China and 50 other countries banned the importation of food from Fukushima on the grounds that it might be radioactive, the Japanese authorities reacted vehemently, and critics of the Japanese government’s response to the handling of anything related to Fukushima were treated like economic saboteurs. Similarly, refugees from Fukushima are scorned in other parts of Japan, and the Asahi Shimbun reported “widespread bullying and stigmatization of evacuees.” This finding was echoed by the UK newspaper The Independent, which said that “discrimination suffered by evacuee pupils [is] likened to that faced by those who lived through the atom bomb blasts of the Second World War.

” Women from Fukushima are shunned as marriage partners, and a new kind of Fukushima divorce has emerged, with men returning to the area in greater numbers than their wives, who want to keep their children as far away as possible.

“Japan has clamped down on scientific efforts to study the nuclear catastrophe,” said Alex Rosen, a pediatrician who co-chairs the German affiliate of International Physicians for the Prevention of Nuclear War. “There is hardly any literature, any publicized research, on the health effects on humans, and those that are published come from a small group of researchers at Fukushima Medical University, which are centered around the scientist Shunichi Yamashita, who in Japan is called ‘Mr. 100 milliSieverts.’ ” (Yamashita was the spokesman for the Japanese government in the early months of the catastrophe and led the Fukushima health survey for two years, before being forced to resign in 2013. Contradicting his earlier research and instructions to his own staff, Yamashita told the public that 100 milliSieverts of radiation was harmless. He recommended against administering iodine pills to prevent thyroid cancer, and told people that their best protection against radiation poisoning was literally to smile and be happy.)

Four thousand people continue to labor daily to contain the ongoing disaster at F1. They pump cooling water into reactor cores and fuel pools, while struggling to keep the damaged buildings from collapsing. More than a billion liters of contaminated water—the equivalent of 480 Olympic-sized swimming pools—are stored on-site in rusting tanks. Claiming that it has run out of storage room, TEPCO is planning to release this water directly into the ocean. For years, TEPCO maintained that the water stored at F1 had been scrubbed of radioactivity, save for tritium, a water-soluble isotope that is said to be relatively safe. In 2014, TEPCO was forced to admit that its cleaning process had failed, and Fukushima’s cooling water is actually contaminated with high levels of strontium-90 and other radioactive elements.

From the day it opened, Fukushima Daiichi struggled to contain the groundwater that rushed down from the nearby mountains and flowed through the plant. Fukushima today is a swamp of groundwater and cooling water contaminated with strontium, tritium, cesium, and other radioactive particles. Engineers have laced the site with ditches, dams, sump pumps, and drains. In 2014, TEPCO was given $292 million in public funds to ring Fukushima with an underground ice wall—a supposedly impermeable barrier of frozen soil. This, too, has failed, having “limited, if any effect,” Japan’s Nuclear Regulation Authority said.

In 2019, the Japan Institute for Economic Research estimated that the cost of cleaning up the Fukushima disaster could reach $747 billion. But there is actually no such thing as saying that a nuclear disaster has been cleaned up. Lumps of radioactive fuel, concrete, and cladding remain lethal for tens of thousands of years. At Chernobyl, this lava-like mass, called the “Elephant’s Foot,” has been buried under a mountain of concrete and covered again by a second, $1.5 billion shield financed by the European Union, which some have dubbed the “sarcophagus.” Sensitive about looking like a failed nuclear power, Japan has vetoed the building of a similar concrete sarcophagus over Fukushima. Instead, relying upon technology yet to be invented, TEPCO plans to scoop up the fuel in its failed reactors and store the waste in some undisclosed location. In the meantime, Fukushima sits like an open wound on Japan’s eastern shore.

The takeaway? Among the new buildings meant to lure settlers back to Fukushima are two museums. In Tamioka, directly to the south of the power plant, a former energy museum has been converted into something called the Decommissioning Archive Center. Films depict actors replaying scenes from the disaster on one floor of the museum and demonstrate TEPCO’s “Progress of the Work” on another floor.

In the village of Futaba, directly to the north of the reactors, the government has erected a three-story building called The Great East Japan Earthquake and Nuclear Disaster Memorial Museum. A former boomtown filled with workers from the plant, Futaba used to have an archway over its main street, declaring, in bold letters, “Atomic Power: Energy for a bright future.” Yuji Onuma created this slogan for a ninth-grade homework assignment. He received a prize from the mayor.

Now living far from Fukushima and running a business installing solar panels, Onuma returned to Futaba one day a few years after the disaster. A photo from that visit shows him wearing a white Tyvek suit, booties, hat, and facemask. Behind him is Futaba’s main street, filled with crumbling buildings and overgrown with weeds. Above him is the archway that TEPCO financed. Over his head, Onuma holds a placard with red-letter writing on it, so the sign instead reads, “Atomic Power: Energy for a destructive future.”

The archway has since been removed and stored in Futaba’s new museum. Onuma wants it reinstalled, where the irony of having his slogan floating over the ruins of a dead city will remind everyone of their original mistake. At the least, he wants the sign put on display in the museum. “I made the wrong slogan,” he recently told an American interviewer. “But I’m glad that I realized my mistake before I died.” https://thebulletin.org/2021/03/fukushima-today-im-glad-that-i-realized-my-mistake-before-i-died/?utm_source=Newsletter&utm_medium=Email&utm_campaign=ThursdayNewsletter032021&utm_content=NuclearRisk_Bass_03102021

Report: Cancer death rates rising near Fermi nuclear plant 

April 5, 2021

Report: Cancer death rates rising near Fermi nuclear plant   https://www.13abc.com/2021/03/11/report-cancer-death-rates-rising-near-fermi-nuclear-plant/

A new study is looking to test baby teeth from children living near the plant.  NEWPORT, Mich. (WTVG) – A new report from the Radiation and Public Health Project claims that the cancer death rate in Monroe County, Michigan is on the rise and it’s tying that growth to the Fermi 2 nuclear plant in Newport.

According to the report, which uses public health data from the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, the rate of death due to cancer in Monroe County was roughly equal to that of the rest of the United States. Since 1988, that rate has risen steadily, reaching 11.3% higher than the national average in the most recent 10 years (2009-2018).

From 2014-2018, that rate was 14.3% higher than the national average, amounting to 1,794 deaths. In the period between 1969 and 1978, outlines the report, that rate was 4.5% lower than the national average. The Fermi 2 nuclear power plant went online in June of 1985, and while the report has no concrete evidence that the plant is the definitive cause of the rise in cancer deaths in the county, it does provide a correlative pattern.

13abc has reached out to DTE Energy, owners of the Fermi 2 plant, for comment. “The trends in Monroe County cancer rates since the mid-1980s cannot overlook the startup of the Fermi reactor, and the potential role of radioactive emissions on health,” says Joseph Mangano MPH MBA, Executive Director of RPHP and study author. “The report needs to be taken seriously, and follow-up measures are urgently needed,” adds Christie Brinkley, a long-time activist on nuclear issues, Board member of RPHP, and a native of Monroe County. “In particular our children must be protected, as they are most vulnerable.”

In an effort to further understand the role the reactor may have had in the rise in cancer rates in the area, the RPHP is conducting a “Tooth Fairy” study. They’re collecting baby teeth from children living near the power plant to test for levels of Strontium-90, a chemical created by nuclear reactors. They’re hoping to test up to 50 teeth and will compare the results to Sr-90 levels in Detroit-area residents from a 1950s-era study of atomic bomb test fallout. Information about the study, including how to participate, can be found at their website.

United Nations Scientific Committee on Atomic Radiation (UNSCEAR) report on Fukushima health effects -rushed, inadequate, inconsistent

April 5, 2021

Dr Ian Fairlie, 12 Mar 21, more https://www.ianfairlie.org/news/latest-unscear-report-on-the-fukushima-nuclear-disaster-in-2011/    On March 9, the United Nations Scientific Committee on Atomic Radiation (UNSCEAR) published an advance copy of its latest (third) report on the health effects from the Fukushima Daichi nuclear accident which commenced on March 11, 2011. UNSCEAR 2020 Report – Annex B – Advance Copy

The report shows signs of having been rushed out as it is an advance copy and is unfinished. It states 23 electronic attachments with supplementary information on detailed analyses of doses to the public and their outcomes are currently in production and will be available soon on the UNSCEAR website.

I shall look at the Report in more detail when the additional information is published. However at the 10th anniversary of the nuclear catastrophe at Fukushima in 2011, it’s necessary to have an initial look at the Report’s comments on contentious issues arising from the accident – (a) the number of expected fatal cancers and (b) the continuing controversy over the cause(s) of the large observed increases in thyroid cancers (TCs) in Japan since 2011.

On (a), the 2020 Report concludes that there are no observed ill health effects from the accident but this conclusion is inconsistent with UNSCEAR’s own estimates of high collective doses from the accident.  Table 13 (page 72) of UNSCEAR’s 2020 report shows that, in the first 10 years after the accident, the whole body collective dose from the accident was 32,000 man Gy. When we apply the widely-accepted fatal cancer risk estimate of 10% per Gy to this figure, we see that about 3,000 fatal cancers will have occurred due to the accident, correct to one significant figure.  The report’s strange, unscientific conclusion to the contrary is inconsistent with these estimates. The only assumption used here is that radiation’s dose-response relationship follows the linear-no-threshold model, as recognised and used by all the world’s radiation protection authorities.

On (b), the 2020 Report (page 107, para q) concludes that the sharp increase in observed thyroid cancers post-Fukushima was not due to thyroid intakes of iodine isotopes from the accident but due to increased surveillance.

However large collective doses to the thyroid are also published in UNSCEAR’s new 2020 report. In the first 10 years after the accident, the 2020 report states the collective thyroid dose to the Japanese population from the accident was 44,000 man Gy.  Again, this is a high number, but the absence of an authoritative risk factor for thyroid cancer – especially among young children aged 0 to 4 who were exposed to both internal intakes of radioactive iodine plus external exposures to ground-deposited Cs-134 and C-137 means that reliable estimates of  the actual numbers of thyroid cancer cases due to the accident are unfortunately not possible.  The supplementary information yet to be released may enable such calculations to be made. However the large collective dose to the thyroid from Fukushima casts doubt on UNSCEAR’s conclusion that the observed increases are not due to the accident.

I would not be surprised to learn that the negative conclusions in the UNSCEAR 2020 Report might be a reason why an advance copy was rushed out in unfinished form before the anniversary of the Fukushima accident.

I add the caveat that the above analysis is a (second) draft and has not yet been fully peer-reviewed. However many requests have been made for views on the UNSCEAR’s 2020 report, so I’m publishing this quickly. Any errors which are pointed out will be corrected in a later post.

Every hour, Fukushima reactor 2 emits more than 10,000 times the yearly allowable dose for radiation workers

April 5, 2021

Fukushima today: “I’m glad that I realized my mistake before I died.” Bulletin of the Atomic Scientists, By Thomas A. Bass | March 10, 2021

”………..What we know about nuclear disasters at Chernobyl, Fukushima, and elsewhere comes primarily from modelling what is known as the “source term”—the types and amounts of radioactive material that were in a reactor’s core and then released to the environment by an accident. These models are revised as we learn more about the prevailing winds and other factors but are still only models; ideally, one wants to examine the reactors’ cores themselves. Unfortunately, even 10 years later, no one can get close to Fukushima’s reactor cores, and we do not even know precisely where they are located.

As recently as December 2020, Japan’s Nuclear Regulatory Authority (NRA) announced “extremely serious” developments at Fukushima that were far worse than previously thought, the Asahi Shimbun newspaper reported. TEPCO had discovered that the massive shield plugs covering the reactors were emitting 10 Sieverts of radiation per hour—a lethal dose for humans (though it should be noted that reactor cores are normally examined by robots, unless these, too, are destroyed by radiation). Because Fukushima now has more contaminated material at higher doses than previously estimated, “this will have a huge impact on the whole process of decommissioning work,” said NRA chairman Toyoshi Fuketa.

The effective dose of radiation required to sicken or kill you is measured in Sieverts, a unit named after Rolf Sievert, the Swedish physicist who first calibrated the lethal effects of radioactive energy. A dose of 0.75 Sieverts will produce nausea and a weakened immune system. (Sieverts are used to measure the relative biological damage done to the human body, while becquerels and curies are units that describe the amount of radiation emitted by radioactive material.)

A dose of 10 Sieverts will kill you, if absorbed all at once.

A dose somewhere in-between 0.75 and 10 Sieverts gives you a fifty-fifty chance of dying within 30 days.

Guidelines for workers in the nuclear industry limit the maximum yearly dose to 0.05 Sieverts, or 50 milliSieverts—the equivalent of five CT scans, says Harvard Health Publishing. (This is a high figure compared to the 1 milliSievert per year that is considered acceptable for the general public; a physicist familiar with the industry explained that the thinking is that workers in the nuclear energy industry are implicitly being paid to take on the risk.)

So how many Sieverts are currently being produced by Fukushima’s melted reactors? The latest reading from reactor No. 2 is 530 Sieverts per hour. This means that every hour the heart of the reactor is emitting more than 10,000 times the yearly allowable dose for radiation workers……  https://thebulletin.org/2021/03/fukushima-today-im-glad-that-i-realized-my-mistake-before-i-died/?utm_source=Newsletter&utm_medium=Email&utm_campaign=ThursdayNewsletter032021&utm_content=NuclearRisk_Bass_03102021